Local governments turn to green energy

In 1995, Daryl Stockberger was faced with a decision that would affect the environmental course of Bowling Green, Ohio for generations. In his eighth year as Utilities Director for the city, Stockberger had an opportunity to push Bowling Green in a direction of “green energy.”

Local governments and municipalities throughout the country had similar decisions, some gradually transitioning toward renewable energy.

Years later, he remembers hearing that renewable energy in Ohio lacked quality. Most communities nearing the millennium sided with conventional wisdom over innovation.

Around the United States, other municipalities with visionaries like Stockberger were realizing that renewable resources would soon become economically feasible for energy projects. Nearly two decades later, Bowling Green has proudly worn its role as one of Ohio’s pioneers in local government energy efficiency.

Today, wind turbines scatter the countryside, thrusting their surfaces above the harsh, Northwest Ohio landscape. Solar panels perch atop the courthouse, hockey rink and other buildings throughout town and horde sunlight like foragers. Bowling Green even owns a significant portion of the Belleville Hydro Plant, a hydroelectric power plant on the Ohio River.

When Stockberger left his post in 2005, renewable resources made up 20 percent of Bowling Green’s energy, he said. Sustainable resources will nearly double to 35 percent in 2015, according to American Municipal Power, an energy facilities operator.

The overall picture of energy in a municipality the size of Bowling Green is larger than most realize.

The city’s acclaimed wind farm, a collection of turbines towering over nearby cornfields, cost around $1 million each, Stockberger said. With initial construction and installation investments taking up the bulk of the price, the turbines begin to pay the investment back over time.

Estimates were unclear as to how many years it would take for the turbines’ returned value to hit their investment, but it may take less time than expected, Stockberger said.

Despite the significant investment and impact the project has made on the community, wind turbines are “not a very large part of the overall power supply,” Stockberger said.

Just how “not very large” was wind energy of the city’s overall resources in 2010? One percent, or one-twentieth of the total amount of Bowling Green’s renewable energy.

“We’ve always had a history of being a proponent of green energy resources,” said Brian O’Connell, Bowling Green’s current utilities director since June 2011.

O’Connell directs the city’s energy and utilities divisions (such as electricity and water) and serves as advisor to the Board of Public Utilities. This group of five citizens, appointed by the mayor, makes ultimate decisions regarding Bowling Green’s energy projects, O’Connell said.

Bowling Green joins 127 communities in seven surrounding states as members of AMP, which develops green projects to sell to their members.

Municipality ownership of projects allows for cheaper costs for citizens, who, in the case of energy, are also customers.

“AMP was formed by engineers in the late 1970s, early ’80s so that municipalities could buy cheaper electric in quantity,” said Mark Triplett, Assistant Superintendent of Galion Electric.

“We buy power the best we can sell it back to the customer for,” he added.

This “strength in numbers” approach, O’Connell contends, provides a stronger outlet for energy opportunities to cities like Bowling Green. AMP members can opt-in to projects they see fit for their community, leaving over 100 other utilities directors like O’Connell and Triplett throughout the Midwest and Appalachia with vastly different choices depending on their municipality.

The variables for approaching a project leave O’Connell and others playing several different roles—as economist (how will this affect the price of power?), as political scientist (how will environmental policies and regulations change or affect this power?) and, in the case of envisioning the project’s success, as soothsayer.

The ultimate goal of energy efficiency helps a community’s environment in a variety of ways, according to an EPA guide on local government energy operations. Such efficiency helps to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and provides municipalities with the independence to make their own energy choices.

In recent years, Bowling Green expanded their energy reach hours south to the Ohio River, buying a portion of the Belleville Hydroelectric Plant. The plant uses the gravitational flow of water to generate hydroelectricity, its power contributing to 10 percent of Bowling Green’s energy in 2010, according to AMP.

The projects can be safe, too—in 2010, the plant received an award for safety excellence by the National Hydropower Association.

While the EPA calls for a national action plan consisting of specific yearly annual goals, Bowling Green has no environmental master plan, O’Connell said.

Ohio Senate Bill 221, however, mandates that 25 percent of the state’s energy must come from alternative energy resources, according to American Electric Power Ohio. Half of this may be generated from advanced energy resources, the bill states.

Between several other hydroelectric projects being constructed along the Ohio River Bowling Green holds stock in and the ever-rotating wind turbines, the impact of green energy continues to grow.

As municipalities gain more energy independence, they allow choices for their citizen customers, too.

An “EcoSmart Choice” developed by AMP and made effective in Bowling Green in 2010 gives citizens the choice to increase their energy bill slightly to provide an amount of green power in the city’s power grid, O’Connell. While the power is not necessarily distributed to their home, the upcharge guarantees payment for renewable energy resources somewhere in Bowling Green, they said.

Bowling Green’s environmental policy has changed dramatically since Stockberger’s helm. Energy is more sustainable. The city’s ownership of renewable resources is rapidly expanding.

O’Connell, finishing his first year as Utilities Director, continues the city’s tradition of pushing for energy with a lessened impact on citizens’ wallets as well as the environment.

A large, aerial portrait of Bowling Green fills the side wall of his downtown Church St. office. The checkerboard fields extend from the city outward into infinity, the farmlands patterned intricately as if by an electrical grid.

Taking a closer look at a fluid difference

By Max Filby


For Chad Johnson, water is typically his only company while on the job.

As Johnson makes his hourly rounds, the smell of chlorine and other chemicals is as constant as the sound of rushing water in each sector of the Bowling Green Water Treatment Plant on West River Road.

Johnson, a life-long Bowling Green resident is also the superintendent of the plant where he’s worked for the past 20 years.

During his time at the plant, Johnson has worked to keep up with the “extremely strict” standards of the Environmental Protection Agency, he said. While Johnson is focusing on certain EPA standards, his competitors in the bottled water industry are obeying a different set of standards by the Food and Drug Administration.

“You never know what you’re getting in one of those bottles,” Johnson said. “I don’t really see any sense in it.”

Bowling Green water is free of any contaminant violations in all categories including ones testing for traces of lead and chloroform, according to a 2010 water quality report.  The plant has actually been violation free since 2003, Johnson said.

“It’s something we’re really proud of, just to be able to say that,” he said.

After being violation free for so many years, Johnson continues to root for tap water of a bottled alternative. Johnson carries a reusable water bottle as he prepares to start his rounds again.

Instead of not knowing what he’s drinking, Johnson prefers his reusable bottle because he knows what it contains.



Johnson may work closely with what Bowling Green citizens are drinking, but a student group on campus is working toward a similar goal in a different way.

Every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. Gabriel Morgan leads a meeting for an organization called Net Impact in the creativity lab of the Business Administration Building on the campus of Bowling Green State University.

Net Impact has been around for a little over a year now and focuses on a World Water Week project to educate students on the healthiness of tap water and the wastefulness of bottled water in what Morgan refers to as a “global water crisis.”

“Drinking tap water is all around safer and it reduces waste, which is becoming a big issue,” Morgan said. “It falls into that first category of ‘the three R’s.’

Reduce, reuse and recycle is one aspect Morgan and his group of “social and environmental change-makers” emphasize while educating students with “dirty water bottles.”

In continuing its World Water Week project, group members like Alexandra Ordway are still trying to figure out how to make students understand that the convenience of water bottles doesn’t outweigh its lower standards, she said..

“I think it’s kind of unnecessary,” Ordway said. “I understand the whole convenience thing, but it gives people the false sense that what they’re drinking is sanitary.”


While Johnson and the members of Net Impact are trying to bottom out the bottled water industry, a group of people in Virginia are trying to do just the opposite.

The International Bottled Water Association promotes itself as the “voice of the bottled water industry,” said Chris Hogan, IBWA vice president of communications.

“Drinking water is an excellent option when you are looking to stay hydrated, but we do promote what we think is the better option out there,” Hogan said, referring to bottled water.

IBWA and Hogan’s beloved bottled water is quickly becoming the second most popular beverage, right after soft drinks, according to the FDA’s website.

Although the tap water Johnson cares for is regulated by the EPA, the FDA regulates bottled water as a food item, putting it in the same category as a soft drink, according to the FDA’s website.

Despite talk of bottled falling short of standards similar to those of tap water, Hogan said that bottled water is held to a different set of standards that are still strict, even though they may not come from the EPA.

“That’s something we hear people talk about a lot,” Hogan said. “But, in some cases some standards for bottled water don’t exist for tap water.”

Hogan is referring to standards including certain traces of elements within bottled water, he said.

“It always seems if someone has a beef with bottled water, they’ll pull out the most inconveniently priced bottle of water from a hotel and compare it to tap water,” Hogan said. “The fact is that they’re two different things, they’re incomparable.”


At the water plant where Johnson works, him and his team of operators are working to continue bringing Bowling Green’s water qualities above or at the level of the bottles Hogan and the IBWA boast about.

In its battle against the bottle, the plant utilizes several large tanks of chemicals and machinery to get the city’s water up to one of the highest levels of quality in Ohio, Johnson said.

As Johnson continues on another one of his hourly rounds, he checks the filtration and disinfection systems, some of which date back to when the plant first opened in 1951.

Johnson credit’s Bowling Green’s high water quality to the latest technology installed in the plant in 2009.

“The newest equipment has been a big help,” Johnson said as he pointed to a small monitor attached to a series of tanks. “It’s taken the level of toxins in our water down to less than .03 percent.”

The improved treatment is just something Johnson associates as part of the everyday job of meeting EPA standards before pumping out between 3 million and 7 million gallons a day.

“The EPA is extremely strict, we’ve got all kinds of chemical testing and other requirements we have to meet and we do meet all of them,” Johnson said.

After taking care of Bowling Green’s water supply for 20 years, Johnson believes people just don’t know about the plant’s improvements in quality to what flows from each faucet.

“I don’t think that people understand,” Johnson said. “The water quality is extremely high here. It’s just fine.”


Small farms fight for farm bill equality

By Ryan Satkowiak

Located along OH-53 just outside of Tiffin, Ohio, the Riehm Farm looks just like an average small, family-owned farm.

There is no driveway, just a 20-square-foot gravel patch located in from of a storage warehouse. The home of John and Diane Riehm, located 30 paces to the right, flanks the buildings.

The majority of the 300 acres that John Riehm farms lie barren. It is early April, and he has not yet planted the corn and soybeans that will populate the fields.

John Riehm inspects the tomato plants in one of his greenhouses located on his 300 acre farm in Tiffin, Ohio. Photo by Ryan Satkowiak.

Behind the warehouse stands a trio of greenhouses. Inside of them are rows of vegetables, stretching from one end of the greenhouse to the other.

Tomatoes, cabbage, onions, peppers, broccoli and various herbs: They are just a few of the vegetables that the Riehms harvest and sell to the local community.

“By growing these now, I’ll be picking them by the time everyone else starts planting,” John Riehm says with a grin on his face.

However, these vegetables are not what keep Riehm Farm operating. While those crops represent the bulk of what is sold at local farmers markets, Riehm Farm gets no federal subsidy for these crops, according to the Environmental Working Group’s federal subsidy database.

Instead, their subsidies — or, federal money granted to farm owners for the crops they grow — come from corn and soybeans — commodity crops.

That imbalance in payments has caused for John and Diane Riehm to fight for a change in subsidy payments. Namely, they have petitioned Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown to fight for a change in the 2012 Farm Bill.

A Growing Problem

Because the vegetables he grows gets him no federal aid, John Riehm only devotes a small portion of his land to growing them. Only 25 of the 300 acres he farms are used to grow vegetables.

So what goes into the remaining 275 acres? Corn and soybeans — the 21st century American cash crops.

John Riehm overlooks the crops growing in one of the greenhouses on his farm. Photo by Ryan Satkowiak.

The 2008 Farm Bill — the program that determines the portion of the federal budget that will be paid to farm owners — heavily favored farms that grew one, or several, of the so-called cash crops: corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice.

In the fiscal year 2011, nearly 90 percent of commodity program payments and crop insurance subsidies were paid for those five crops, with corn (38 percent), wheat (19 percent) and soybeans (16 percent) leading the way, according to the Congressional Research Services’ preview of the 2012 Farm Bill.

In fact, corn has become the most financed crop in America in terms of subsidies. From 1995-2010, the federal government has paid just north of $77 billion in corn subsidies to approximately 1.6 million farms across the nation, according to the Environmental Working Group’s farm subsidy database. That number is more than double the $32 billion that was provided in wheat subsidies during the same time frame.

In that same 15-year span, Riehm Farm was given about $150,000 in corn subsidies and $3,000 in wheat.

Many small farmers are upset about the federal government’s use of these commodity crops. The corn, wheat and soybeans are primarily used to feed livestock, not people. Corn is also used in the production of alcohol, fuel and other household goods. Diane Riehm believes that sends the wrong message to the American farmer.

“When you look at what type of product they are growing versus what type of product we are growing, there is no value in feeding people,” she said regarding the government’s use of commodity crops. “They put more value on corn with fuel and ethanol. Of course they’re going to say it goes into food because they put corn syrup in everything. They’re supporting the grain and they need to spread that out and support everything else.”

However, reforming the Farm Bill is difficult to do because of a tie in that has little to do with farming: food stamps.

According to the Congressional Research Service, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (also known as the food stamps program) is approximately two-thirds of the farm bill’s budget.

“They should call it a ‘food bill’ instead of a ‘farm bill,’ because [the government] is misrepresenting and letting people think farmers are getting all this money,” John Riehm said. “It should be separated so people know that’s actually food stamps, not agriculture.”

However, according to Sara Sciammacco, press secretary for the Environmental Working Group, SNAP is one of the positive aspects of the farm bill. In particular, there has been a push to encourage people on food stamps to purchase more local fruits and vegetables.

“In the newly released Senate Agriculture Committee 2012 farm bill proposal we applauded the provisions of the bill that support healthy diets, expand links between local farmers and consumers and help new and beginning farmers,” she said in an email. “In particular, we thanked Senator Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., for her efforts to expand incentives that encourage low-income consumers to purchase more fruits and vegetables and increase access to local foods at farmers’ markets.”

There have been no talks among politicians to remove SNAP from the farm bill, said Katherine Ferguson, the Rural Policy Director for Senator Brown. The reason for this, she said, is because food stamps was something that was originally drawn up by the Department of Agriculture, and keeping SNAP under that jurisdiction makes it easier to deal with supply issues.

Fighting for change

Small farms are not receiving as much of a cut of these federal subsidies as larger farms. The top 20 percent of farms in the United States received 80 percent of subsidies in 2010, with an average payment of $24,628 per farm, while the bottom 80 percent of farms only received $1,494 on average in subsidies, according to the Environmental Working Group’s federal subsidy database. Because of this disparity, the small farmers are trying to fight for more equality.

The Riehms have joined up with a group of local small farms to petition Senator Brown to fight in U.S. Congress to get higher subsidy payments for vegetables and the addition of a “compete clause” to the Farm Bill. This clause would put a cap on the amount of subsidies one farm could receive, causing a greater distribution of wealth.

John Riehm points out that the average age of family farmers in America is 60 years old and rising. He adds that few young people are joining the profession because they cannot afford to get started up because there isn’t much government help available.

Because the large farms make their money solely growing commodity crops and not vegetables, John Riehm wonders where that will leave the food industry in 20 or 30 years if small farms go out of business because of lack of funds or lack of farmers to run them.

“What happens down that line, is there going to be enough small farmers growing vegetables to feed us? Or are we going to have to import all of our crops from other countries, where they spray whatever they want on it?” he said.

However, according to Ferguson, there is not a substantial movement anywhere in America to get direct support for fruits and vegetables. She added that Senator Brown is not interested in pursuing that either.

Rather, Senator Brown wants to make sure there is crop insurance available for fruits and vegetables to cover things such as transportation or storage since those crops are not as easy to store as corn or wheat, Ferguson said.

Spreading the Word

John Riehm said that he doesn’t envision receiving much federal aid for the Farm Bill this go-around. While the farm’s federal aid peaked at $52,568 in 1999, it has decreased significantly since.

Riehm Farm has not received five-digit aid since 2006, and received only $4,818 in 2010, according to the Environmental Working Group’s farm subsidy database.

In order to combat that, he and his wife go around the community trying to inform people about where their food comes from. He preaches “shortening the food chain” as much as possible.

His main pitch is the difference between foods you purchase form a local farm, versus food bought from a corporate grocery store. John Riehm said in grocery stores, you don’t know what type of pesticides or other chemicals the foods have been treated with. When buying from a local farm, you know exactly what you will be getting.

“We’re educating people where their food comes from and what is on their food,” he said. “We are very big on nutrition because that’s one thing I think people need to get back to is that shorter food chain. That is what is leading to a lot of our health problems because we aren’t eating properly.

“But even then, I’m guilty of that too,” he says with a laugh while point to the bottle of Pepsi sitting in front of him.

The Riehms also run a community supported agriculture, or CSA, which functions as a private contract between the farm and the consumer. In this transaction, an individual or group interested in purchasing crops from the farm will pay up front and pick up the crops when they are ready.

The benefit of this are it serves as a safety net for farmers. Since the government does not pay subsidies for vegetables not sold, overplanting could be dangerous for a farm. With the CSA, the farmer knows exactly how much of a crop needs to be planted.

The up-front money also helps with operating costs, allowing the farm to keep it floating, John Riehm said.

Diane Riehm said this program has been successful in Wisconsin. She added that Ohio is behind the curve, but is catching up, citing a “food summit” that took place in Columbus this year.

“We talk about how we can all join forces to make our food more sustainable and keep the money here,” she said. “It’s the same thing [in Wisconsin]. The farmer gets a contract for his crop before he puts all that expense into it. When he puts the thousands of dollars into that crop, he knows he is going to be able to sell it.”

Flowers of the future bloom in Ohio

By Erin Cox

The flowers of the future.

A wind turbine. Photo by Erin Cox.

A 257-foot tall stem with three white petals spinning round in the wind and a generator in the center. The wind is strong today and the only noise that can be heard besides the rustling of the wind is the cars passing on a nearby road. Four wind turbines stand along the landfill on the edge of Bowling Green, Ohio. They are the first of many wind turbines that have popped up around the state.

Don Scherer of Green Energy Ohio helped get the wind turbines installed in Bowling Green in 2003 and 2004. He assisted in conducting the initial wind assessment of the area to see if the area’s wind was profitable as an energy source.

“It was a big deal then, but now they’re very small in the scale of what’s being done,” Scherer said.

Bowling Green’s four wind turbines put the city ahead of the rest of the state in 2003. According to Scherer, Daryl Stockberger, the Bowling Green Utilities Director during that time, took the initiative to make Bowling Green greener. Stockberger led the push to install the wind turbines, but now the city’s four turbines look small in comparison to the other wind farms being built around the state.

Ohio’s Renewable and Advanced Energy Portfolio Standard, a 2009 state law also known as Senate Bill 221, requires Ohio’s electric distribution utilities and electric service companies to generate 25 percent of their electricity sold from alternative energy sources. At least 12.5 percent of this must come from renewable energy resources, such as wind, and at least 0.5 percent from solar. The other 12.5 percent can come from other advanced energy resources. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s website, advanced energy resources are any energy-making processes that do not produce any extra carbon dioxide, such as nuclear power and clean coal. Half of the renewable energy these companies generate must come from Ohio and that has led to the development of wind farms throughout the state.

Emily Sautter, Wind Program Manager for Green Energy Ohio, said that Ohio’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard has created a demand for wind energy in some portions of the state.

The construction of a wind turbine with Blue Creek Wind Farms in summer 2011. Photo by Erin Cox.

“The wind farms have to be in a good wind spot so folks can get reasonable payback for their investment,” Sautter said. “Southern Ohio doesn’t have the best wind, so they probably won’t see as many wind farms pop up around that area. But in 2003 and 2004, Bowling Green worked with Green Energy Ohio to do a resource assessment and found that it would be a good spot for wind turbines.”

Bowling Green’s Utilities Director Brian O’Connell said the project cost several millions of dollars, which the city had to borrow to purchase the turbines. The city then entered a payback period where the money it made from the wind turbines would go to pay off the debt.

According to Scherer, Bowling Green’s wind turbines were bought with the idea that they would be paid off in 15 years from the energy produced. After paying off the cost of the turbines and building them, then the energy produced will be at its cheapest amount to buy.

Sautter said Bowling Green’s four wind turbines have performed at or above the expected amount of energy production.

Scherer also said Bowling Green’s wind turbines are ahead of the scheduled production. The wind turbines produce energy at capacity when the wind speed is between 19 and 33 miles per hour. The blades will turn at winds of three miles per hour, but the generator does not gage the rotation of the turbines until winds reach nine miles per hour. Currently the wind turbines are performing at an average of 25 percent capacity meaning a combined total of 1.8 megawatts of energy are produced an hour by the four wind turbines.

“Winds tend to pick up during the fall and intensify during the winter and stay strong until the end of May into June,” Scherer said. “Summertime sees the lowest productivity with 10 percent of production being done in the summer.”

Scherer said the initial wind assessment was conservative for financial reasons.

“You don’t want to overestimate the wind when it is such a large-scale financial investment,” Scherer said. “The wind was going to be good enough so at that point, you get into the next round of decisions, which is finding a site where a group of turbines can sit without blocking each others’ wind.”

Bowling Green’s municipal utilities is part of American Municipal Power, which is not one of the for-profit energy distribution companies that have to meet the Senate Bill 221 standards. As a nonprofit company, A.M.P. gets credit for the renewable energy it produces with the four wind turbines. Scherer said that if A.M.P wanted to, it could sell their credit to the mandated energy companies in Ohio to allow them to have that credit applied to their renewable energy resource requirement.


About 80 miles southwest of Bowling Green, along the county lines of Paulding and Van Wert, Ohio, the flowers of the future have become more like a field of corn. The wind turbines, 214 in total, scatter the fields of the area. Blue Creek Wind Farm operates 159 wind turbines built by Iberdrola Renewables, and the other 55 were built by Horizon Wind energy.

From four wind turbines sitting alongside Bowling Green’s landfill to now 214 wind turbines scattered throughout hundreds of acres of farmland, this is the look of the future of northwest Ohio.

Part of the wind farm in Van Wert, Ohio. Photo by Erin Cox.

Each of Blue Creek’s 152 wind turbines in Van Wert stands at 328 feet tall with a 148-foot long blade. People can catch a glimpse of the turbines spinning from miles away.

But, the massiveness of the turbines doesn’t have to be viewed only from far away. U.S. 30 runs alongside the wind farm all the way to the Indiana state line. Multiple turbines sit close to the road, giving drivers an easy distraction as they drive on the highway.

While some turbines stand in lines of five or six, others seem to have just popped up randomly in the middle of a field or in the backyard of a family’s home.

Some of the wind turbines sit close to homes while others stand in the middle of farmland. Photo by Erin Cox.

The drive that use to take forever with empty, dead fields during the winter, now seems to end too quickly as the wind turbines cause a hypnotic effect with the amazing expanse they cover.

O’Connell said that in 2010 Bowling Green already had 25 percent of its energy coming from renewable energy sources, only part of that was from wind. O’Connell said that he expects in 2015 the city to get 35 percent of its energy from renewable resources.

Bowling Green receives half of the energy from the wind turbines, and the other half goes to nine other communities who are part owners of the wind turbines.

According to O’Connell, the problem with wind energy in Ohio is that they are only performing at 25 percent of total capacity where as a coal plant produces energy at 90 percent of their capacity the majority of the time.

“With wind power, you can’t guarantee that wind will be there,” O’Connell said. “You have to realize that there’s a reduced capacity factor with wind power whereas with other energy sources, it can pretty much be guaranteed to generate a certain amount of energy.”

Not all wind turbines provide energy for the people of the county in which they are built though.

According to Sautter, the energy produced from the wind farm in Van Wert is disbursed to FirstEnergy customers. Iberdrola, the company that built Blue Creek Wind Farms in Van Wert, made a power purchase agreement with FirstEnergy giving it the ownership of the energy produced.

According to the Ohio Power Siting Board, Ohio has certified 662 wind turbines throughout the state with another 275 pending certification. This means the state can expect to have 937 wind turbines.

This chart from the Ohio Siting Board shows the certified and pending certifications of wind turbines going up around Ohio. Chart provided by Penny Martin of the Ohio Department of Development.

Stuart Siegfried of the Ohio Public Utilities Commission said the energy companies have been doing well so far. Each year has a benchmark that the companies must meet. It increases annually to make sure the company is on track to meeting the requirements of Senate Bill 221.

Scherer said that what made it easier for places like Kansas and the Dakotas, which has numerous wind farms across the state, is that the average farmer owns more farmland.

Photo by Erin Cox.

“The wind farms that are going up in Ohio spread across multiple farmer’s land,” Scherer said. “Many farmers have to agree and it’s a complicated dynamic to figure out how to get all the people to agree to give up some land for these.”

According to Scherer, the Ohio Farm Bureau has an employee, who is involved with Green Energy Ohio, to educate the farmers about the wind turbines and how little problems they cause.

According to Siegfried, 25 other states have a similar portfolio standard as Ohio does.

“Things have been looking good on the non-solar side. On the solar side, some companies have had problems with supply constraints,” Siegfried said.

Chad Smith, Deputy Chief of the Office of Energy in the Ohio Department of Development said while there has been an increase in wind farms in Ohio, Ohio’s main contribution to wind energy is the manufacturing of parts for the wind turbines.

If an energy distribution company does not make the benchmarks for the year, it has to give reasons for it. Seigfried said that if they have justifiable reasons, it can be excused, but the difference may be added on to the next year’s benchmark. Without justifiable reasons, the company will face some sort of fine or compliance payment.

Red flashing lights. As far as the eye can see, red flashing lights fill the night at the wind farms in Van Wert and Paulding.

According to the Federal Aviation Administration, the wind farms have synchronized the red lights of the hundreds of turbines so that planes can identify and avoid the wind turbines. The effect is entrancing.

Without knowing that the red lights sit on top of the wind turbines, passersby driving on the highway might have no clue as to what they belong.

The four in Bowling Green might be mistaken as radio towers, but the two hundred expanding across hundreds of acres of farmland, seems impossible to mistake as radio towers. Perhaps some day wind turbines will be the norm, the expected, and easily detectible at night by their synchronized, captivating red lights.

Reduce, Reuse, Rethink

By Kelsey Klein

Quick: what’s the most recent thing you’ve done for the environment? Chances are, you just thought that time two days ago when you tossed a plastic bottle or piece of paper into a recycling bin on your way out of class or after you were done eating. Recycling is incredibly visible at Bowling Green State University, so this isn’t surprising, but is recycling really the best thing BGSU can do to cut down on waste?

Recycling at BGSU started in the 1980s with a push from a few students in the environmental studies department, according to Gary Silverman, chair of the Department of the Environment and Sustainability at BGSU. These students recognized that recycling programs on BGSU’s campus could not only help the environment, but they could also save the university money.

Institutions must pay to leave waste at landfills. BGSU’s relationship with the Wood County Landfill is no exception. When materials are collected for recycling, less waste goes to the landfill, resulting in lower deposit fees for BGSU. As an added bonus, companies who break down and use BGSU’s recycled materials bay the university for its recycling. The university agreed to funnel some saved money from recycling back into the student run operation, and BGSU’s recycling program was born.

Today, BGSU’s recycling program is alive and well, with recycling bins in every campus building, according to Nicholas Hennessy, sustainability coordinator at BGSU. The university receives $100,00-$130,000 annually for recycling, Hennessy said.

Many buildings, such as residence halls, have multiple bins: for paper, plastic, and aluminum. One material is missing, though— glass.

Silverman explained recycling is driven by market factors—what materials are being used at the current time. At this time there is not a market for glass, leading BGSU to abandon glass recycling because the material is heavy and hard to manage, he said.

Hennessy disagreed with Silverman when asked about the recycled glass market. “I think that there is a demand for glass,” he said. “It’s just a matter of financials.”

Those financials include the high cost of transporting the heavy material in relation to the monetary value of the material. Administration at BGSU has not institutionalized glass recycling because the university would lose money, according to Hennessy.

Groups of students, however, are taking matters into their own hands. Volunteer students currently collect and take glass to the Bowling Green City Recycling Center, according to Hennessy, but this situation is not ideal. The volunteer system sometimes results in unfortunate situations, such as a story Hennessy told where he saw a group of students wheeling a recycling bin down the street in the rain. Because the volunteer system is not ideal, there is student movement to re-institute glass recycling at BGSU.

Janelle Horstman, who is leading a glass recycling effort through the BGSU student environmental group Net Impact, says she is working on finding glass recycling options that are cost efficient for the university. While the university is paid for recycled materials, BGSU can lose money from having to transport heavy glass to recycling sites, Horstman said. Institutionalization of glass recycling will require working out financial problems with the potential program.

Brooke Mason discusses glass recycling in the Kreischer-Batchelder lobby. Photo by Kelsey Klein

Brooke Mason, Sustainability Chair for Net Impact, spoke about the importance of options other than recycling. “Recycling is the last R and I would promote reducing what you use and reusing it before recycling,” she said. Recycling a glass bottle is better than throwing it away, she said, but it would be even better to use a reusable container instead of individual bottles or reuse the glass bottle.

Hennessy believes the three “Rs”—reduce, reuse, recycle –are “in order of importance” as well. Reduction of waste is much better than creating waste that is then recycled, although recycling is better than waste ending up in a landfill, he said.

Silverman used a stapler to illustrate the same point. If a stapler breaks, what can be done with the materials? “Where did that metal come from,” Silverman said. “We had to mine it, we had to refine it, we had to use a lot of energy to manufacture it and now all these resources are in the trash. If we should recycle it, that’s better because at least we could recover the metal. If we could fix it and use it again, better yet.”

BGSU’s reStore is aimed at just that—reusing products. At the reStore, students can trade for things they need instead of buying new items. A shirt could be turned into a book. Shoes could become a DVD. A desk lamp could be traded for a backpack.

Hennessy developed the concept for the reStore after he saw the program at a few other universities. He was intrigued by the idea and enlisted the help of two BGSU students to make the reStore a reality. The reStore is located on the Kreischer Compton-Darrow side of the SunDial dining hall on campus.

The current intern with the reStore, Andrew Myers, pointed out how the reStore involves all three “Rs.” It reduces consumption because it encourages students to trade for used goods instead of buying new goods, it helps students reuse products that other students no longer want or need, and it contributes to recycling through students’ donations to the store, Myers said.

While BGSU is making steps in waste reduction like the reStore, Silverman and Hennessy both believe the university should be doing more to reduce its waste footprint.

“An institution has to decide what its role should be as a citizen,” Silverman said. “An institution can be a good citizen or it can be a not-good citizen. A not-good citizen is consumptive.”

Efforts to stem consumption can begin with university programs, or they can begin with students, but Hennessy believes sharing information about reduction is vital.

“It’s little by little,” he said. “One student learns about reuse and starts spreading the concept to a roommate, a friend… it spreads from person to person, one step at a time.”

Sustainability in the classroom: teaching green

by: Nikia Washington

Environmental Education is currently waiting to be introduced to the United States education system. Recent awareness has drawn national attention and legislation is underway, with the hopes that environmentally aware children will lead to a greener future for our country.

“Will they have pink water suits and waiters?” was the first question sixth grader Gabrielle Aquindo asked when she heard she would be drudging through the polluted Maumee River, with boots that meet her waist and river water past her knees.

Teri Fisher’s sixth grade class at St. Benedict Catholic School will be participating in the General Motors G.R.E.E.N. (Global River Environmental Education Network) program on May 2nd. The G.R.E.E.N. program, which is a partnership between General Motors Toledo and the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments(T.M.A.C.O.G.), gives students the opportunity to explore the Maumee River and its life forms, all while learning about the large amount of pollution it holds.

Students from Jackman Elementary work with GM volunteers during a GREEN project last year. Photo courtesy of Janet Kruse.

“[G.R.E.E.N.] takes them from the classroom and gets them out in the field,” said Matt Horvat, coordinator of the Student Watershed Watch for TMACOG. “Many of these kids have never even been near a stream.”

Horvat, who has worked with TMACOG for the past 10 years, is a supporter of environmental education being implemented into the curriculum of United States schools.  Currently, the United States Department of Education, led by advocates for the curriculum change, is battling to introduce environmental education into the country’s elementary and secondary curriculum. Meanwhile, the lack of the subject raises awareness.

A commonly accepted saying is that the children are the future. But what does the future hold for this world when environmental issues such as global warming, oil depletion, and pollution haunt every decision we make? This is the question many environmentally aware individuals and organizations are asking.

In an article titled “The Concept of Environmental Education(EE)” by William B. Stapp, a former professor at the University of Michigan who is considered by most to be the founder of international environmental education, Environmental Education is defined as education with an aim to produce citizens who are knowledgeable about the environment, its concerns, and how to solve them.

This chart shows that the world's most enviromentally friendly countries all have some form of environmental education.Information of courtesy of http://green-buzz.net

In 2007, a group who went by the ‘No Child Left Inside Coalition’ presented the first national effort to immerse environmental education into the U.S. schools system. The bill, titled the No Child Left Inside Act, was passed by the House of Representatives, but was not passed by the Senate. However, the legislation was adapted by a number individual state governments. The No Child Left Inside movement is still currently active, with over 200 co-sponsoring organization, including the Sierra Club.

“How do we get them [children] excited about coming to school every single day,” said Arnie Dunkin, secretary of the department of education, at the First White House Summit on Environmental Education held on April 16, 2012. “I actually think EE can be a huge tool to doing that.” The United States now carries a dropout rate of 25 percent and possesses a large achievement gap. Some government officials feel environmental education can help to improve these statistics.

Students from Jackman Elementary work with GM volunteers during a GREEN project last year. Photo courtesy of Janet Kruse.

Studies show that students with environmental experiences have better performance in the classroom. Maryland Congressman and environmental education advocate John Sarbanes said educators have pointed out that student achievement sores when environmental education is programmed into the student’s curriculum.

Historically, students who have taken the SAT and ACT have tested lowest in the science section, as reported by universitylaunguage.com.

Janet Kruse, coordinator for General Motors Toledo’s GREEN program said, “GREEN makes science and engineering really exciting to them and helps them gain an interest in the science field.”

Fischer, who once taught science and now teaches English and religion, feels that her students enjoy learning about the environment and how they can protect the Earth.

“I’ve never had a kid that felt like, ‘Oh, this doesn’t pertain to me,” said Fischer. “They care about it.”

11-year-old Megan Miller, one of Fischer’s students who appeared meek at first, spoke strongly about the affect she is having on the environment through her everyday actions.

“I think all of us know that when we do help the environment, we’re not just helping one person,” she said. “We’re helping all of us, because if we don’t do that, we’re not going to be here.”

St. Benedict Catholic School, which houses preschool through eighth grade classrooms, incorporates environmental education into their curriculum through their religious teachings, as well as personal passion teachers may wish to share. However, Fischer feels non-religious institutes can also greatly benefit from learning about the current issues which our world faces.

“I think it’s important that we work really hard to let kids know that we all have a responsibility to protect the Earth and respect and protect our resource,” she said. “Because they’re not always going to be here.”

“I don’t think we’ve historically done enough in this area,” Dunkin said at the summit, on educating youth on the environment.

Environmental Education is also beneficial to the future of U.S. students, as more jobs are opening in the field. Deputy Secretary for the Department of Interior, David Hayes, said that in the past year more than 22,000 young people, ages 15-25 have, been employed in environmental environments. Dunkin agreed, as he stated many of today’s and tomorrow’s jobs are in the area of environmental sustainability.

“We have to prepare them for jobs of the future,” he said.

Another positive aspect of environmental education is that it does not stop at the classroom – what students learn at school is applicable to their daily lifestyles.

“I have my own recycling bin in my room,” said Elizabeth Pierson, 6th grade student at St. Benedict in Fischer’s homeroom class. She said also uses the following phrase often: Reduce, reuse, and recycle.

Classmate Rheanna McDowell says she encourages her siblings to recycle and save energy, and her parents uphold a similar philosophy.

“My family does recycle cans and paper,” she said. “My mom always tells me every day to make sure I recycle my paper, so other people can reuse it.”

While there are many who are pushing for environment in the classroom, there are just as many who oppose the idea of the topic being implemented into the U.S. school system. Funding, political agendas, and overall effectiveness are the arguments naysayers are using.

It was reported by CNSnews.com that Representative Howard McKeon (R-Calif.) said environmental education is a special interest topic and it should not be imposed on the education system by our government.

Another common complaint is that the funds, which will go into providing environmental education curriculum, which will be an expensive venture, will be a waste. There is a fear that even with environmental education, students will continue to lead the same lifestyle, doing nothing more to better the Earth.

Despite the criticism the potential new program has received, supporters continue to push forward with strong beliefs that this addition to the curriculum will benefit students and the community.

“America’s great outdoors is the greatest classroom we can have for teaching environmental education,” said Hayes.

Dunkin added, “[Children] want to know what they’re doing in these classroom is relevant to their communities.”

Fischer prepares her students for their river excursion by discussing environmental topics daily, with a specific focus on water sanitation.

“We’ve been talking about the project a lot,” said Fischer’s 12-year-old student, Thomas Brown.

“I can just imagine finding cans in the river,” Aquindo said, completely oblivious to how much pollution the Maumee and similar rivers hold.

St. Benedict is one of the few schools which has already adapted the environmental education plan. Movement towards linking our entire education system to the environment is slowly, but surely occurring. This past week, the first award ceremony was held for Green Ribbon Schools, recognizing schools that participate in promoting a healthy environment. Dunkin believes progress towards green education will soon begin moving rapidly.

“I think we’re on the cusp of something that’s really exciting,” he said.

Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency Lisa Jackson informed participants at the White House Environmental Education summit that the first Earth Day was a sit-in – a form of education. Just as Earth Day has grown into an internationally celebrated holiday, she believes the same level of growth can happen for environmental education.

“If YouTube can make those “Charlie Bit Me” kids famous then we can make climate change famous too,” Jackson said.




First Annual White House Summit of Environmental Education



White House Summit on EE – Part 2 

Catch up on the events of the 2012 Environmental Education week here.

The future of vehicles has arrived

Electric car charging stations bring a new source of energy to Bowling Green

By Sarah Bailey

Bowling Green residents and BGSU students may notice people plugging their cars into a different source of energy: electric car charging stations.

Three of these small, futuristic-looking stations have been placed in various areas throughout the city. The stations offer a source of power that has been historically controversial and recently debated.

Electric car charging stations like this one, placed in city Lot 2, can be found throughout the city. Three more stations will be installed on BGSU's campus by fall 2012. Photo by Sarah Bailey.

At the turn of the 20th century, the amount of electric vehicles on the road was more than gasoline-powered ones. In the early 1900’s, there were about 50,000 electric vehicles in the United States. Over time, the use of electric vehicles decreased as the development of gasoline became less-expensive and the electric starter took the place of the crank in gasoline-powered cars, according to a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

While the climate continues to change and the amount of emissions into our atmosphere becomes a growing concern, many have turned back to electric vehicles as an opportunity and an advancing green energy.

While many cars on the road today are primarily gasoline-powered, worldwide adoption of electric vehicles and hybrids are expected to grow quickly within the next couple of years, with sales up to 3.2 million vehicles from 2010 to 2015, according to a report from Pike Research.

Some people have started to charge their electric vehicles at these charging stations. The stations provide a source of electricity that can charge batteries in both electric cars and hybrids, according to Nicholas Hennessy, sustainability coordinator at BGSU.

Three electric car charging stations, located in Lot 1 off of East Court Street, Lot 2 off of South Prospect and Lot 3 off of South Church Street, have been installed and are ready to use, according to Brian O’Connell, utilities director for the city of Bowling Green.

View Electric Car Charging Stations in Bowling Green in a larger map

Three more stations will be placed on BGSU’s campus in the welcome center lot, the lot across from the union, and in Lot 8 by Falcon Heights within the next few months. The grant application to install the charging stations was approved in January. The university is currently waiting for the installation process to begin, and the stations are expected to be in place by the fall 2012 school year, Hennessy said.

When owners of electric vehicles’ batteries run low, they will be able to hook their cars up to these charging stations. The stations are similar to gas pumps. A customer can take the pump and plug it into the side of his or her car and electricity will flow into the car’s batteries, Hennessy said.

A BGSU student shows how the plug is removed from it's position on the charging station. Photo by Sarah Bailey.

“It’s really the same type of concept as you would charge an iPod or a cell phone, except that it’s a car instead,” he said.

The time to charge an electric vehicle can vary depending on the vehicle and how big the battery is. The charging stations on campus and in the city will take a vehicle a couple of hours to be fully charged.

The city and the university will not be charging people to use the stations at first. The only price customers will have to pay is for the meter while their car is charging, Hennessy said.

O’Connell, the city’s utilities director, said he was approached by Anthony Palumbo, head of the university’s Electric Vehicle Institute, who informed him that the grant was available.

From there, the university and the city came together in order to get the charging stations. Each charging station, made by General Electric, cost $2,500, added up to a total of $15,000 for the city and the university combined, said Hennessy, who administered the grant process.

“We applied for the grant because we felt like we had an obligation to make more charging stations available to try and perpetuate the purchase of electric vehicles,” he said.

Clean Fuels Ohio, an organization that distributes money from the U.S. Department of Energy for green projects, funded $7,500: half of the money involved in the project. That left $7,500 for both the city and the university to come up with individually.

For the university, the Student Green Initiative Fund paid for the portion that wasn’t paid for by Clean Fuels Ohio. The fund is a pool of money that students have paid for in their student fees to support many of the university’s green projects. The fee is an optional $5 per semester, and many students agree to pay it, Hennessy said.

The city paid for the other half of their funds through Eco Smart Choice Program, a fund that provides a volunteer rate that customers can pay towards renewable energy or sustainability projects, O’Connell said.

Electric car technology is a cleaner energy than using fossil fuels, yet it all depends on where the source of the energy is coming from, Hennessy said.

“If your electricity is coming from a coal-powered power plant, then fossil fuels are still being used,” Hennessy said. “You are still connected to burning coal because the factory is.”

Hennessy explained that this is different from purely “green” energy that does not harm the atmosphere, such as electricity produced purely from windmills outside of Bowling Green. In reality, most of the energy produced in Bowling Green is connected to coal in some way, he said.

“Even so, it is better than using straight-up gasoline, which is 100 percent from a non-renewable source: oil,” Hennessy said.

Another concern is that even though the cost for electric vehicle technology is going down, it is still enough to remain a major factor in holding back the advancement of this technology, Hennessy said.

“Even though you have these cars on the market, the cost is still considered pretty high,” Hennessy said.

O’Connell and Hennessy both agreed that the price of the electric vehicles will be an issue that car manufacturers will have to face.

Thayer Nissan, part of the Thayer Family Dealerships in Bowling Green, has one of the only mass-produced fully electric vehicles on the market: the Nissan Leaf.

“Once it catches on, I believe people will see this as a good vehicle,” said Eric Walker, sales manager at Thayer Nissan. “It’s a great commuter vehicle.”

The Nissan Leaf is the only fully electric vehicle that Nissan sells currently, according to Walker. Nissan recently came out with this vehicle for mass production and it was initially sold on the east and the west coast before it became available in the Midwest.

“It’s not going to be a vehicle that you can take across the country, but for daily use it’s much more efficient than a gas vehicle,” Walker said.

There have only been a few of the vehicles sold in the Midwest region, and the dealership in Bowling Green has not yet sold any, despite the vehicle being available since January, Walker said.

Even though the vehicles have been on the market, people in the Bowling Green community haven’t had the

Customers can park their cars for up to eight hours in designated parking spots throughout the city. They do not have to pay to charge their vehicles, but they do have to pay the meter. Photo by Sarah Bailey.

opportunity to get into this type of technology yet because of the way the ordering process works, he said.

The ordering process for a Nissan Leaf is done online. Customers can make an account online, send out a quote to dealers, and once their quote is accepted the process is moved forward through the dealership. The process takes about three to four months, he said.

“We have one vehicle here at the dealership that can be used as a demo for customers to come in and see,” Walker said.

The electric car charging stations will help people in the outer areas of the community be attracted to purchase electric cars, he said.

One of the other major concerns surrounding electric vehicles is the distance the car can go on one charge.

Today’s purely battery-powered vehicles don’t provide the same distance as a gasoline-powered vehicle. Currently, an electric vehicle’s driving range is anywhere from 50 to 130 miles, depending on factors such as the vehicle’s weight, type of batteries and design, according to  the same report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

“People may want to go further than that and they may become trapped or not able to find a charging station,” Hennessy said.

One of the requirements of getting the grant was the electric vehicle charging stations had to be made available to the entire state, not just the people in Bowling Green or at BGSU, he said.

“If there is someone from Toledo, Findlay or any other city who wants to charge their cars, they can do so here,” O’Connell said.

O’Connell explained that the city plans to monitor the free consumption of the electricity for about a year. The parking meters the city has put in place will allow around an eight-hour parking limit, compared to the other meters that have a two-hour limit. Once the amount of consumption is figured out, plans can be made as to whether a fee will be given to use the stations.

“We computed it out and if a car were to charge for an hour it would consume less than 50 cents worth of energy,” he said.

Another factor the city considered when deciding on the stations was the rising amount of hybrid and electric vehicles on the streets, O’Connell said.

By the year 2017, it is forecasted that more than 1.5 million electric charging locations will be available in the United States. About 7.7 million locations are expected to be available worldwide, according to a report by Pike Research

For every 10,000 drivers who operate gas-powered cars that would switch to electric, CO2 emissions would be decreased by 33,000 metric tons a year. This is the same as the yearly CO2 emissions of 6,500 cars on road in the United States, according to General Electric’s website.

In other words, if this technology replaces gasoline-powered vehicles, General Electric thinks the atmosphere would be thanking us.

“If you want people to use these types of cars in the community, you have to give them a source to plug into,” O’Connell said.

A blooming problem in Lake Erie

By Stephan Reed

During summer 2011, Robert Michael McKay, director of Bowling Green State University’s marine program, set sail on a research vessel on Lake Erie. The combination of no air conditioning and the July heat on the lake became unbearable, so McKay and his research team announced a swim call to cool off. Before jumping in, however, McKay noticed they were floating atop a large cloud of algae, full of the cyanobacteria microcystin.

This toxin irritates the skin, damages the liver, reduces oxygen levels in lake water, causes an unpleasant odor in drinking water and kills fish, according to a 2012 report from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Clouds of algae are appearing earlier than previous years and in greater abundances. Algae blooms contain the cyanobacteria microcystin which is toxic to humans, livestock and pets. Photo provided.

Officials at the Ohio EPA are pushing for legislation that would advance the filtering systems in water treatment plants, especially when it comes to the harmful algae.

“There is a high concentration [of microcystin] in the water that comes into the plant, but a very low amount that comes out,” said Heather Raymond, the head of the harmful algal bloom task force for the Ohio EPA.

There are no mandated regulations concerning the toxin in drinking water, but the Ohio EPA has set in place unofficial regulations to help keep algae out of it, Raymond said.

“Everything we are doing is considered above and beyond the [federal Safe Drinking Water Act],” Raymond said. “These are unregulated toxins, but there’s enough data out there telling of the risk to human health. California came out with a threshold draft about Microcystin in water and it’s way below what Ohio’s is. We need consistency in our benchmark levels.”

McKay, while on his research expedition, realized these blooms were not only much larger than last year’s blooms, but they also arrived a few months early.

Blooms containing microcystis have always been in Lake Erie, but recently these toxic algae clouds have become more invasive than previous years, McKay said. This poses a potential threat to humans, pets, livestock and the Lake Erie tourism and recreation industry.

Despite the risks, McKay’s group had no choice but to dive into the harmful waters to avoid overheating.

“We eventually went swimming, but had to make sure we didn’t swallow any water,” McKay said. “It was the best of two really bad situations.”

The mass consumption of microcystis at one time can have a serious effect on the human body.

“If you took a big glass of the scum and drank it down,” McKay said, “you would probably have hemorrhaging in your liver. Your liver is basically a mass of cells and you have sinuses that carry blood throughout it. There are tight little tubes, and when exposed to microcystis, the capillaries begin to expand and blood begins to hemorrhage out of the liver.”

If a local community is using the lake for a drinking water supply, members of that community could face chronic effects due to prolonged exposure to the algae.

“Microcystin is a known tumor promoter,” McKay said. “It doesn’t start cancer, but if you have some cancerous cells and they go unregulated, microcystin can spread cancer in the body.”

Humans aren’t the only ones being affected by this toxin.

“This happens to animals, too,” McKay said. “You will sometimes find cattle and dogs drinking from the reservoir that has the bloom. They may take in a high enough dose and they will die due to the acute effects.”

The tourism and recreation industry has been negatively impacted as well.

Captain Joel Byer, of Nacho Fish Fishing Charter in Sandusky, Ohio, has seen deterred business as algae begins to bloom.

“This stuff doesn’t look good and it doesn’t smell good,” Byer said. “People see it on the news and they just don’t come to the lake. It was in the marina, and so thick around my boat, and it looked like a skipping stone could sit on top it. It looked like a can of thick pea soup washing up on the beaches.”

A cloud of invasive algae rests near the shore in Put-in-Bay. The algae deters tourism in the later summer months, Byer said. Photo provided.

One way of approaching the problem is by attacking it at the source. McKay has narrowed down the cause of the large blooms to be the chemical phosphorous, which acts as a catalyst for algae.

“In most freshwater systems, algae are limited, but if you can give them one nutrient that will cause them to explode in growth, that would be phosphorous,” he said. “They seem to have enough of everything else.”

Phosphorous has been pinpointed as a major cause of algal blooms, McKay said. In the past, the government has issued regulation to decrease the amount of phosphorous contaminating the water.

“Sewage treatment plants weren’t effective in removing phosphorus, so phosphate was being loaded into the lakes,” he said. “Secondly, detergents have a lot of phosphorous in them. All that wastewater coming from washing machines was acting as fertilizer for algae.”

A third cause of phosphorous loading comes from large farms that use chemicals to feed crops and aid in the killing of invasive weeds, McKay said. The excess chemicals sink into the soil and are washed away into the water.

Highly agricultural areas contribute to the high amounts of phosphorous that reaches Lake Erie. The white areas in the satellite image are the beginnings of algae blooms as of April 25. Photo illustration by Stephan Reed.

To avoid phosphorous getting to the water, farmers can put in “buffer strips,” or medians of grass between the field and the body of water, he said. The grass will grow rapidly but won’t let the chemical pass.

“A lot of people in Ohio have ponds in their backyards and some of those people use those for their water supply or for recreation,” McKay said. “In either case, people like to keep them clean. They don’t want that scum sitting on top. One approach is to install a strip of unmowed grass or reeds between the pond and the actual grass.”

However, there are some economic drawbacks for farmers when using this technique on a large scale.

“You want to maximize your yield on an acre, but then you have to give up 10 percent of your acre to a buffer strip,” McKay said. “Farmers might not like that, but other countries decided to use that approach because it has been used effectively. It has been used in China as well. Some of their lakes looked like you could walk on them [because of the abundant algae].”

Although the buffer strip method cuts down on the yield of crops for farmers, the United States government refunds farms that use this method.

Kyle Henry’s family farm in Perrysburg, Ohio, currently uses buffer strips.

“These are voluntary programs,” Henry said. “Farmers who use these receive subsidies. They do offset the costs, but with higher crop prices, there are some cases where farmers withdraw their buffers.”

Some farmers use manure as homemade fertilizer, said Andy Hupp, certification materials reviewer of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association.

“A farmer isn’t going to use more fertilizer than needed, honestly, because it’s too expensive,” he said. “They’re not trying to load the water and soil with phosphorous.”

Farmers are not the only ones being blamed for the rapid growth in these blooms. The residential use of the herbicide Roundup contributes to phosphate loading into bodies of water, according to a 2009 research study published The Ohio State University’s magazine “Twineline.”

The issue of harmful algae blooms is apparent in other parts of the state. Grand Lake St. Marys, near Celina, Ohio, acts as the standing example of the treatment of blooms for the rest of the country. The lake was so bad that the government stepped in and placed great restrictions on the local farmers to help reduce phosphorous loading, Raymond said.

The chemical aluminum sulphate can be used to stop phosphorous from feeding the blooms. It has proven to be effective, yet costly, McKay said.

“They have done trials in 2010 and at the beginning of the last year,” he said. “They spread aluminum sulphate and measure its efficacy. They have found it to be effective so they have applied it over a large area on the lake. It’s a multi-million dollar application, so they have to weigh the return on the lake and the cost.”

This method may be effective in preventing blooms, but it could have harmful effects on wildlife, Byer said.

“Yeah, it’s cutting down on the blooms, but what’s it going to do to the fish?” he said.

Multiple strategies have been used to help Grand Lake St. Marys and have proven to be effective, however, some of the same strategies may not be used on the Great Lakes.

“Some of the protocol used on Grand Lake St. Marys will be used on Lake Erie, however, the politics are different,” McKay said. “With Lake Erie, you have two countries and multiple states dealing with it. Some of the approaches they are using on Grand Lake St. Mary’s probably won’t fly between states or between countries.”

The United States government has enacted laws that regulate phosphorous in household products. Americans currently use buffer strips in their backyards and farms to help keep phosphorous from reaching water.

While the idea of having an international lake with low levels of microcystin may seem to be a difficult task to accomplish, it is not impossible, Raymond said.

“There has been discussion about removing phosphorous from products on a small scale,” she said. “I do think it is possible to solve, but only with good management.”

View Areas with large algae blooms in a larger map

Go to Top
Skip to toolbar