TOLEDO, Ohio — Several environmental groups have threatened to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency if it doesn’t act quickly and take a bigger role in efforts to clean up Lake Erie’s potentially toxic algae.
The groups called on the EPA to designate the lake’s western end an impaired watershed under the federal Clean Water Act, a move that would allow for increased pollution regulations.
The algae blooms in the shallowest of the Great Lakes pose a threat to both drinking water and wildlife and have become more prevalent in recent years.
Algae now turn the waters into unsightly shades of green in most summers. An outbreak in 2014 contaminated the tap water for more than 400,000 people around Toledo and a record-breaking bloom last year left behind a scum that covered an area the size of New York City.
While steps have been taken to reduce the farm fertilizer runoff and municipal sewage overflows that feed the algae, environmental groups and some political leaders have become frustrated by the pace and depth of those efforts.
“Lake Erie, and everyone who depends on it for drinking water, jobs, and a place to fish and swim, need the U.S. EPA to step in and do its job,” said Heather Taylor-Miesle, head of the Ohio Environmental Council.
Michigan earlier this year proposed designating its portion of Lake Erie as impaired but Ohio has resisted doing the same for its entire section and instead wants only some shoreline areas on the impairment list.
The National Wildlife Federation along with other environmental groups sent a notice that said the EPA should have acted already on the states’ proposed impairment list and that it intends to sue if no action is taken within 60 days.
The groups also want the EPA to reject Ohio’s plan and designate all of western Lake Erie impaired.
“Foot-dragging by the U.S. EPA has to stop,” said Mike Shriberg, Great Lakes regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation.
The EPA issued a statement saying it’s in the process of reviewing both proposed impaired waters lists.
The agency also said that if Ohio’s proposal is rejected because it determines the state’s entire share of Lake Erie is impaired, the EPA would then propose adding those waters to the list.