New federal resources awarded will help clean up Grant Lake St. Marys while creating clean energy jobs. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today announced $1 million for a methane digester project to reduce nutrient loading associated with toxic algae blooms, like the cyanobacteria in Grand Lake St. Marys. The funding was awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resource Conservation Service’s Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program through a competitive process.

“Not only will this help clean up the Lake, it will also help create jobs in the clean energy industry. This project will serve as a national model for an innovative solution to clean up toxic algae blooms creating jobs and provide consumers with a source of clean, domestic energy,” Brown said. “Grand Lake St. Marys has been an economic anchor of Mercer and Auglaize counties and I remain committed to pursuing all possible solutions to restore it.”

Through the CIG program, Quasar will help bring methane digester technology to Grand Lake St. Marys, a watershed that has been ravaged by toxic blue – green algae. The algae has left the lake unsafe for swimming, and contributed to a decline in tourism, which has led to increased economic hardship for local business. In March 2011, Brown urged USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to support the grant application filed by Quasar Energy Group, a northeast Ohio company. Brown’s office also convened stakeholders, including state and federal agencies, community leaders, and rural energy groups, at a roundtable at Battelle.

“With the CIG grant, we will be working to make the situation better by creating a portable technology to separate nutrients and remove them from the watershed. This project will not only be about impacting the region – but about demonstrating a technology that will benefit every farmer and every waste water treatment plant that is struggling with a nutrient management issue,” said Mel Kurtz, president of Quasar Energy Group.

Recent studies on Grand Lake St. Marys have shown that excess phosphorus loading of the lake has been the primary reason for toxic algae blooms during the past two summers. Methane digestion is a biological process that converts organic matter in manure into a valuable biogas—methane. Methane is a renewable energy that can be used for facility heating and converted to electricity or compressed natural gas (CNG), an alternative motor vehicle fuel. This process reduces nutrients flowing into the lake over time.

With the production of methane from livestock manure, availability of CNG as a motor vehicle fuel could provide lower costs and cleaner air for the community. Installation of methane digestion facilities to manage livestock manure represents an opportunity for the Grand Lake St Marys region to address the environmental problem at Grand Lake St Marys, but also a move towards a clean energy economy.

Brown, the first Senator from Ohio to serve on the Agriculture Committee in 40 years, has worked during the past three years to secure water quality conservation funding for Grand Lake St. Marys that encourages farmers to use best practices – including cover crops and buffer strips – that will improve the long-term health of the lake.

In August 2010, Brown introduced the Safe Water Intensive Monitoring (SWIM) Act, which would amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and allow the EPA to give grants to local governments in order to monitor and test coastal waters for pathogens and other threats to public health and safety. In April 2010, Grand Lake St Marys received $1 million in funding for the creation of buffer strips along creeks running into Grand Lake St. Marys and for the planting of cover crops. In February 2008, U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded funding to help farmers in Auglaize and Mercer counties participate in a special demonstration project aimed at keeping nutrients and organic material out of area water supplies.