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OSU study: Ohioans willing to pay part of the price to reduce the green tide on Lake Erie

Dec 26, 2016

Ohio State University researchers say the public is willing to pay part of the price to address Lake Erie’s cyanobacteria problem.  

“Unfortunately, (cyanobacteria) are also often referred to as "harmful algal blooms" as most people will know what algae are but not cyanobacteria,” says  Stuart Ludsin, an associate professor of evolution, ecology and organismal biology and co-director of Ohio State’s Aquatic Ecology Laboratory. "Cyanobacteria used to be called 'blue-green algae,' but no longer are.”

Lake Erie is at the center of cyanobacteria research, because it contains 50% of all the fish in the Great Lakes, supports a $1.7 billion tourism industry, and provides drinking water for 11 million people

For the past five years, OSU researchers have been looking into several ways to reduce the bacteria blooms, which can produce a deadly toxin.  They’ve been testing different strategies to reduce phosphorus discharge that feeds the bacteria. 

But solutions could be costly to farmers and consumers alike.

The researchers asked Ohioans if they would be willing to pay more for food, or even a special income or sales tax, in exchange for reducing the bacteria, and the answer that came back was “yes.”

But the price could be quite high.

The researchers estimate it could cost nearly $150 million annually just to reduce the number of farm acres in Ohio with moderate to high phosphorus runoff. Phosphorus feeds the cyanobacteria.

The United States and Canada recently signed a binational agreement to cut phosphorus discharge into Lake Erie by 40%.