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Indiana moving slowly on lake phosphorus rules

January 29, 2012

A state effort to address phosphorous pollution that has fouled Indiana's waterways is moving forward slowly, but environmental groups' hopes for help from lawmakers is likely to be dashed this year.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is working on new rules to establish numeric standards for phosphorus in lakes. But a bill that would place restrictions on the application of lawn fertilizer containing phosphorous is unlikely to get a hearing in the House, according to Casey Arqawi, press secretary for state Rep. Dick Dodge, R-Pleasant Lake.

The Indiana Conservation Alliance, whose 30 members include the Indiana Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy and the Indiana Lakes Management Society, had made passage of the bill a priority, but the boycott by House Democrats over divisive right-to-work legislation caused delays that could make it difficult for the bill to be heard, Arqawi told The Star Press.

Phosphorus has been blamed for algae blooms that have tainted waterways across the state in recent years.

In August 2011, state officials found high levels of blue-green algae at eight of 13 public swimming beaches sampled, including Potato Creek State Park, Chain O'Lakes State Park and Raccoon State Recreation Area. Sampling by IUPUI also found high levels of the algae, also known as cyanobacteria, in Geist, Morse, Eagle Creek and Patoka reservoirs.

A similar bloom in Prairie Creek Reservoir in 2010 affected about 700,000 drinking water customers in Muncie, Indianapolis and other communities, causing a horrible smell and taste that lasted for days.

Exposure to blue-green algae during swimming, wading and water-skiing can lead to rashes, skin and eye irritation and other issues, including nausea, stomach aches and tingling in fingers and toes.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1988 recommended that states accelerate the adoption of nutrient standards for water bodies. The EPA has continued to encourage states to adopt standards since that time.

Shivi Selvaratnam, a technical water quality specialist at IDEM, said the state is in the process of adopting standards for lakes and reservoirs. The pending phosphorus rule also would affect municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Selvaratnam said officials hope to draft rule language by the end of the summer.

If Indiana does not finish the rule-making, the EPA could apply national lakes nutrient criteria to Indiana lakes.

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