The following is a letter Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland sent to U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack regarding the condition of Grand Lake St. Marys:
Dear Administrator Jackson and Secretary Vilsack:
I am contacting you today to request your immediate involvement in assisting the State of Ohio in our efforts to address the water impairment issues at Grand Lake St. Marys.
We have a crisis situation and an opportunity that could serve as a national example of how to repair a broken lake while saving a local economy. The economic viability of this region is ultimately linked to the health of this natural resource. We have reached a tipping point where the degraded nature of the lake is causing a significant loss to local businesses and the total livelihood of the region.
BACKGROUND: Grand Lake St. Marys (GLSM) is Ohio’s largest inland lake, covering almost 13,000 acres. Straddling the Auglaize-Mercer County line in northwest Ohio, the lake was constructed in the mid-1800s to store water for the Miami-Erie Canal. In 1949, Grand Lake St. Marys was established as one of the first state parks in Ohio.
Over the years, GLSM has been a popular recreational lake for boating, fishing and swimming. It is also the drinking water supply for the city of Celina, which has a population of approximately 10,000.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) maintains a campground, three public beaches and several picnic areas at a state park along the lake. Over many years, the lake has become increasingly enriched by phosphorous and nitrogen from a number of man-made sources. These nutrients have contributed to the significant decline of the lake’s water quality. The State has been working with local partners within the lake’s watershed for many years to try to achieve water quality improvements within streams that feed the lake which would, in turn, improve water quality in GLSM.
On April 27, 2009, levels of microsystin recorded in GLSM were very high compared to the other lakes sampled. This prompted the state of Ohio to advise people to minimize contact with and avoid ingestion of the lake water.
The State of Ohio began microcystin sampling again this year. Just two weeks ago, the lake water turned a dark green color and became covered in a thick blue green scum. This situation has produced a terrible odor that is offensive to residents and businesses. In addition, our sampling detected the presence of Aphanizomenon, a previously undetected cyanobacteria, and the associated presence of cylindrospermopsin, a liver toxin and saxitoxin, a nerve toxin. Since there are no national standards or benchmarks for these toxins in water, the State of Ohio erred on the side of caution and advised the public to avoid any physical contact with the water.
Just yesterday, sampling confirmed that microcystin levels are once again on the rise and above 50 parts per billion in areas of the lake.
OHIO’S ACTION: Since the disturbing news regarding the presence and levels of microcystin last year, the State of Ohio has worked vigorously with the local community to try to help this impaired lake and the many citizens who rely on GLSM as a recreational and economic resource.
In response to the microcystin problem that emerged in the Spring of 2009, ODNR developed the “Grand Lake St. Marys & Its Watershed: Water Quality Improvement Initiatives” plan, which is largely geared towards prevention of sedimentation and nutrient loading in GLSM caused by agricultural runoff. Since November 2009, progress has been made by the community, landowners in the watershed, agricultural businesses, and by local, state, and federal agencies on implementing strategies to improve GLSM and its watershed.
• Approximately 23 percent of the cropland acreage in the watershed is currently covered by an approved Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan (CNMP). Ten new CNMPs have been developed since July 2009.
• Since Federal Fiscal Year 2008, approximately $2.5 million has been disbursed to agricultural producers in the watershed through the USDA-NRCS Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) for the purpose of implementing land management practices, such as cover crops and filter strips, development of CNMPs, and manure storage and management structures to be installed and applied in the watershed.
• Recently, the Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District was awarded an additional $1.5 million through the USDA-NRCS Cooperative Conservation Partnership Initiative (CCPI) for the purpose of funding certain programs, including EQIP, under the conservation title of the Farm Bill.
• Two successful nutrient management educational workshops were held this past winter. Over 110 agricultural producers attended these two events. These training sessions provide further opportunities for development of nutrient management plans and to discuss conservation best management practices.
• In association with, USDA-NRCS Special EQIP Initiative in Chickasaw Creek, a tributary of GLSM, the National Center for Water Quality Research (NCWQR) at Heidelberg University is continuing daily monitoring of water quality.
• Construction is ongoing of an in-lake dredge material relocation area that will protect approximately 2,000 feet of shoreline and create a 23.5 acre wetland. Since last summer, Ohio EPA has provided funding for numerous projects to help reduce nutrient loading in the lake including:
• $125,000 for Tetratech Liminologist Services: At our request, US EPA, Region 5, Non-Point Source Pollution program, using a Clean Water Act Section 319 grant, entered into contract with Tetratech to provide technical assistance in assessing conditions and developing a lake management strategy specifically for GLSM.
• $495,000 for USDA-NRCS: As part of a federal 319 grant to Ohio EPA, Ohio NRCS has entered into an interagency agreement to provide whole farm conservation planning in two subwatersheds of the GLSM area.
• $60,000 provided to Mercer County in a 2010 Ohio EPA Surface Water Improvement Fund (SWIF) Grant to assist with the purchase and installation of an "Airy-Gator" large air diffuser/aerator in GLSM.
• $191,650 in Section 319 grant funding to Mercer County SWCD to provide cost-share funding for replacing failing home septic systems and to install various agricultural practices within the GLSM watershed.
In addition to the above financial assistance, Ohio EPA is currently reviewing several proposals to fund additional activities within the GLSM area including:
• $497,200 Section 319 grant funding from Mercer County Commissioners to construct and restore wetland treatment areas in a tributary to GLSM. We anticipate making final decisions on this grant in the next 6 weeks.
• $89,000 in Section 319 grant funding from St. Mary’s Township to assist with the installation of a sediment collector in a tributary creek to GLSM.
• $50,000 in a Section 319 grant funding from the Ohio State University Extension to conduct social indicator evaluation work within the GLSM watershed.
• We have also been in discussion with representatives of the ODNR-Division of Parks and Recreation and US EPA on using FFY09 Section 319 grant funding to assist with the implementation of an alum treatment demonstration project in the GLSM. We anticipate the amount that will be available will exceed $300,000.
ASSISTANCE REQUESTED: Just this week the directors of ODNR and Ohio EPA visited the area to see GLSM and to meet with local officials to discuss potential immediate and long-term solutions. Unfortunately, notwithstanding all the activities described above, it is clear that the water quality in GLSM is rapidly declining, most likely due to historical and continuing influxes of nutrients, primarily from non-point sources, and that additional assistance and expertise is needed.
While we recognize there is no easy fix, it is imperative that the federal government provide any and all resources it has available to help address the environmental and economic crises which now afflict GLSM. Ohio is very much aware that the issue of non-point source pollution and its impacts on water quality is a national concern.
To that end, I am requesting your commitment to a state-federal partnership, starting with a federal team that will partner with us as we take immediate steps to alleviate the short-term crisis and remediate the long-term impacts. I would submit that if ever there were a time and a place for the state and federal government to jointly address the causes and impacts (both environmental and economic) of non-point source pollution, GLSM is it.
As governor of this state, I am requesting your assistance and immediate response to this issue. Multiple agencies within the State of Ohio as well as the local community have been actively involved in looking for solutions and continue to be dedicated to helping this region. We stand ready to work with you and your team.
Finally, I pledge to utilize any state authority I have, or which the Ohio General Assembly may provide, to help minimize the economic and environmental impact to the Grand Lake St. Marys region.
Ted Strickland Governor
Cc: Chief David White, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service The Honorable Sherrod Brown, United States Senator The Honorable George Voinovich, United States Senator The Honorable Jim Jordan, Member of Congress The Honorable John Boehner, Member of Congress The Honorable Keith Faber, State Senator The Honorable Jim Zehringer, State Representative The Honorable John Adams, State Representative