$17 Million Grant to Slow Farm Pollution Flowing into Lake Erie

Posted in: Crisis Response, United States Water News, Water Contamination
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Credit: Jeff Reutter / Ohio State University

Article courtesy of Kate Wells | January 19, 2015 | Michigan Radio | Shared as educational material

The federal government is offering farmers in Ohio, Indiana and Michigan $17 million dollars to cut back on pollution that runs off their farms into Lake Erie.

That’s after toxic bacteria linked to farm runoff shut down Toledo’s drinking water for a few days this past summer.

This is a totally voluntary program. If a farmer wants to apply for money to do things like plant strips of grass or cover crops to absorb and filter pollutants, now the pot of potential funding just got a little bigger.

“It’s about putting partners in the driver’s seat and helping them achieve their natural resource goals,” said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Krysta Harden in a statement.  “[It shows a] strong commitment to improving Lake Erie water quality for the 11 million residents that rely on it for drinking water.”

But critics say these types of programs don’t go far enough to actually prevent a similar water crisis.

“Part of our failure stems from the use of voluntary approaches, which struggle to reduce pollution even under the best circumstances,” wrote Ohio State University environmental economics professor Brent Sohngren in a paper for an agricultural conference.

“If it’s risky to forgo an important nutrient like  phosphorus, why would a farmer voluntarily reduce their phosphorus applications? Not surprisingly, farmers only implement voluntary conservation practices when the costs are low or the subsidies are high enough to offset the costs.”

Sohngren is a proponent of a phosphorous tax, and a “market-based approach,” where farmers could buy credits to use additional phosphorous from other farmers who are willing to cut back.

In a piece for the New York Times in August 2014, reporter Michael Wines wrote:

“The federal Clean Water Act is intended to limit pollution from fixed points like industrial outfalls and sewer pipes, but most of the troublesome phosphorus carried into waterways like Lake Erie is spread over thousands of square miles. Addressing so-called nonpoint pollution is mostly left to the states, and in many cases, the states have chosen not to act.”

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