Around this time last year, 500,000 Ohioans in the Toledo area were forced to go without safe drinking water. They were warned they couldn’t drink the tap water in their own homes.
This is something no family should have to go through, and should not be happening in our state.
Cities and towns across Ohio need to have the best, most up-to-date information on how to keep their drinking water safe. That’s why I’m proud that this month the president signed our bipartisan Drinking Water Protection Act.
Toxic algal blooms on Lake Erie threaten Ohio’s drinking water, and this July the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted the second-largest bloom in recent history.
Our bill will finally require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop a strategic plan within 90 days for evaluating and treating water impacted by these blooms.
We know that public water systems get contaminated by algal toxins. We need to be evaluating the health risk when this happens, and assessing treatment options. That’s what this plan will do.
I’m also grateful that Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack heeded my call to release additional Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funding to help protect the western Lake Erie basin from these harmful blooms and to improve water quality. Last month I sent a letter to Secretary Vilsack, and last week the Department of Agriculture released an additional $5 million in EQIP funds for farmers to plant cover crops that reduce phosphorus runoff.
We know that agricultural and urban runoff is one of the biggest contributors to dangerous algal blooms. After months of significant rain this spring and summer, cover crops could not be planted on tens of thousands of acres. With the additional funding, more farmers can use EQIP funding to plant cover crops, helping reduce harmful runoff.
This new funding comes on top of $14 million in EPA funding recently made available to Ohio communities through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. All of this investment will allow state and local governments, universities, and nonprofit organizations to better work to prevent runoff in the future. We need to stop runoff before it starts.
By targeting harmful algal blooms, we can ensure that communities are prepared to deal with threats to their drinking water systems. Ohioans deserve the peace of mind that the water coming out of their faucet is safe for their families to drink.
The writer is a U.S. senator from Ohio.