When you drive north along Ohio 364 and turn left on Edgewater Drive, you will see a beautiful lake. Whether ice-covered or not, Grand Lake St. Marys is, well, grand.
What you don’t see is the economic chaos that beautiful lake has caused. Because when you get up close, not much has changed. The economy is still hurting. Many businesses have closed … and while politicians try to find money to fix the problem, nutrients still flow into the lake from farm fields in the watershed.
The people don’t know if the water quality will stay decent, as it is now, or deteriorate as the summer sun provides the warming to bring on a full algae bloom and the toxins that come along with it.
Here are some things they do know:
• The local group of volunteers, Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission, has been working hard to make the water quality better. It has raised more than $600,000 to purchase aerators and sediment collectors.
• The Ohio EPA, which lifted all other advisories in recent months, still has the following on its Web site: “Due to the high levels of microcystin, coupled with the uncertainty of the buildup of microcystin toxins in fish tissue, people are advised to not consume fish caught in Grand Lake St. Marys.”
This advisory, unfortunately, curtails fishing, a very popular and important activity at the lake. And even when the ban is lifted, the mindset it created will linger for years.
• While the new cabinet-level directors are already showing interest and say Grand Lake St. Marys is a priority for new Gov. John Kasich, local residents have to wonder if they will get something positive accomplished soon. There is a reported $9 billion deficit in the state budget, so how can there be funds for GLSM? Activities such as dredging cost money. Will the budget allow future dredging to be expanded or will the money dry up?
• The state’s test on alum was inconclusive, so what does the future bring? As of this writing, a decision has not been made to further test alum or spread it over the entire lake. The question is, again, money. It is hard to imagine the state would gamble precious funds on a process that may or may not work.
• Some 300 area farmers have been banned by the state from spreading manure on frozen fields, which helps them get rid of animal waste, but increases the chances of it flowing into the lake. The only problem is that they have this winter and next winter to get their act together. That means the flow of nutrients won’t even slow down until 2013.
ODNR has declared the area to be a “watershed in distress,” which means tighter rules on manure spreading, but, again, not until 2013. The irony is the watershed has been distressed for probably 20 years, but nobody in Columbus cared about it.