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Ohio Governor Wants Nearly $1B For Lake Erie, Waterways

Lake Erie algae bloom
Flickr/Ohio DNR

Gov. Mike DeWine wants to spend nearly $1 billion on water quality projects to clean up toxic algae in Lake Erie and protect other lakes and rivers throughout the state.

The money would come out of this year's new state budget, which DeWine will reveal Friday, and all of it would be set aside into a fund for water-related initiatives over the next decade.

How the money would be spent isn't known yet, but the Republican governor mentioned building wetlands to filter pollutants and paying farmers to use new methods designed to reduce phosphorus-heavy fertilizer runoff, the biggest contributor to the algae in western Lake Erie.

Incentives must be part of the plan "to help farmers so they don't bear the entire burden of doing this," DeWine said.

Ohio, Michigan, Ontario and Indiana — which doesn't border the lake but gives rise to rivers that feed it — have pledged to reach a 40 percent reduction in the amount of phosphorus entering the lake by 2025.

But several environmentalist groups have said Ohio and the other states have not done enough to make a dent in the algae blooms that have become an annual threat to drinking water.

Toxins from a bloom in 2014 contaminated the water supply for more than 400,000 people in the Toledo area.

DeWine's proposal for what his administration is calling the H2Ohio water quality initiative will need approval from the Legislature as part of the governor's overall budget.

"Lake Erie is a priority, clean water is a priority," he said, adding that committing the money now for water projects will allow the state to look at long-term solutions.

The governor said during his campaign last year that he was in favor of a $1 billion bond issue to pay for water-related projects, but he said Thursday that he changed his mind because using that method would force Ohio to pay an additional $475 million in interest.

Much of the money in his proposal will go toward Lake Erie, but some will be spent on improving waterways including the Ohio River, which also been tainted by algae blooms in recent years.

Research will dictate how the money is spent beyond the first year of his budget, DeWine said.

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, the state's largest agriculture organization, praised the governor's proposal, saying it "shows an understanding of the complexities that come with this issue."

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