Three state agencies today jointly launched the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative, a program geared to improve water quality and reduce Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in the Western Basin of Lake Erie. HABs are threatening the ecological integrity and economic impact of Lake Erie, one of Ohio’s most precious natural resources.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) developed this initiative based on the findings of a report the agencies released in March.

“Agriculture is important to Ohio—it is the No. 1 industry in our state,” said ODA Director David Daniels. “The Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative focuses on reducing excess nutrients in our waterways resulting not only from agriculture, but from a variety of urban and residential sources, such as sewage overflow. Together our agencies believe we can address the challenges facing Ohio’s waterways through this program.”

The Directors’ Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group report includes recommendations for the implementation of a 4R Nutrient Stewardship program, which promotes using the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time, with the right placement. Recent studies indicate that the timing of fertilizer application, and how well it is incorporated into the soil layer, significantly reduces dissolved phosphorus runoff. Good nutrient stewardship not only benefits the environment, it also benefits farmers by saving money and time instead of applying unnecessary or excessive fertilizer to the field.

Other areas of focus moving forward to combat phosphorus in Ohio lakes includes continued research into nutrient management with an emphasis on dissolved reactive phosphorus, communications and education efforts with farmers and other interested parties on agricultural nutrient management and the benefit of cover crops, controlled drainage structures and variable rate technology.

“The problem with HABs did not happen overnight, and it is not going to be fixed overnight,” said ODNR Director James Zehringer. “There are a number of factors contributing to HABs in Lake Erie. Farmers are innovative, and they have always stepped forward when science provides new information. We are committed to working with farmers through the local Soil and Water Conservation Districts to expand the use of on the ground practices, which have shown to help control the displacement of agricultural nutrients.”

Long-term monitoring is pivotal to understanding the dissolved phosphorus situation. OEPA is building a comprehensive monitoring program to assess the condition of the near shore areas of Lake Erie in Ohio. 

“Water quality at Lake Erie and our inland lakes is an important issue, and we need to work together as a state to solve the problems we are facing,” said OEPA Director Scott Nally. “I look forward to working with my counterparts to educate farmers and other key stakeholders on new agricultural management and stewardship recommendations so that we can help keep Lake Erie healthy.”

The Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative was developed to implement the report’s recommendations with a focus on programs to educate Ohioans, specifically in the Western Lake Erie Basin region, about the efforts underway to improve Ohio’s waterways. This included developing a website for education and outreach purposes to highlight best stewardship practices and production techniques.

For more information on the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative, visit