Nutrient pollution is a major water quality problem in Ohio and throughout the nation.
We are actively working on solutions that work for Ohio. While efforts to control nutrient enrichment over the past 30 years have yielded some positive results, current evidence shows the need to develop newer solutions and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of existing strategies to reduce nutrients in our waterways.
Nutrient pollution is one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems.
It is caused by too much nitrogen and phosphorus in water. Nutrients are chemical elements that all living organisms — plants and animals — need to grow.
When too much nitrogen and phosphorus enter the environment — usually from a wide range of human activities — the water can become polluted. The primary sources of nutrient pollution are runoff of fertilizers, animal manure, sewage treatment plant discharges, storm water runoff, car and power plant emissions, and failing septic tanks.
Water pollution caused by excessive amounts of nutrients is quite evident in Ohio's many lakes, rivers, and streams. Approximately 48% of Ohio's watersheds are degraded by nutrient loading from phosphorus and nitrogen. Conditions in Ohio's surface waters have reached a critical situation.
In Ohio, nutrient pollution causes many problems such as:
- Harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Lake Erie and inland lakes
- The issuance of public health warnings to avoid swimming
- Widespread nuisance growths of aquatic vegetation
- Increased water treatment costs for clean public water supplies
- Renewed concern over the increased size of anoxic areas in Lake Erie
To address these problems, Ohio citizens will need to make significant changes regarding the management of agricultural and urban landscapes to minimize the influx of nutrients to our waterways.
Further consideration must be given to the design, construction, and operation of nutrient removal technologies at wastewater treatment facilities.
The nature of these changes and the approaches taken by governmental agencies, agri-businesses, farmers, landowners, wastewater treatment service providers and researchers must be constructively debated and quickly implemented if further damage to the environment is to be avoided.
Ohio's Nutrient Reduction Strategy
U.S. EPA has asked states to develop statewide nutrient reduction plans. Ohio's EPA, Department of Agriculture and Department of Natural Resources have developed a statewide Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The initial framework was submitted to U.S. EPA on Nov. 15, 2011. The final strategy was submitted to U.S. EPA on June 28, 2013.
- Ohio Nutrient Reduction Strategy, Addendum (2015)
- Ohio Nutrient Reduction Strategy (2013)
- Draft Nutrient Reduction Strategy Framework for Ohio Waters (2011)
- Directors' Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group - Final Report and Recommendations
- Point Source & Urban Runoff Nutrient Workgroup Final Report and Recommendations
Ohio EPA held a Visioning Workshop on Nov. 14, 2012 in Columbus, Ohio
During this workshop, water quality experts provided valuable information regarding Ohio's efforts to reduce nutrients reaching the state's waterways. Stakeholders from all sectors and regions were encouraged to attend this initial Visioning Workshop, and discussion helped set the stage for future Ohio Nutrient Forums.
Ongoing State initiatives that were discussed included the Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force, the Directors' Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group, and the Directors' Point Source/Urban Work Group.
- DeShon, Jeffrey
Water Quality Conditions: Assessment and Reporting of the Nutrient Problem Affecting Ohio Water Resources
- Davenport, Thomas
Background on State Nutrient Reduction Approaches
- Dudley, Dan
State Agency Activities and New Initiatives
- Eggert, Michael
Nutrient Impacts on Ohio's Drinking Water Quality
- King, Kevin
Mitigation Strategies for Dissolved Phosphorus Transport: Emerging Science
- White, Dale
Urban Point Sources' Nutrient Loads: Relationship of Point Source to Total Downstream
- Gibson, Russ
Prioritizing Ohio?s Watersheds for Nutrient Reduction Implementation
- Toot-Levy, Elizabeth
- Antosch, Larry M., PhD
Setting the Right Standards and Loading Targets
- Dudley, Dan
Setting the Right Standards and Loading Targets
- Ward, Andy; Jessica D. Ambrosio; Jon Witter
A Systems Approach to Setting Nutrient Standards and Loading Targets
- Bauer, Chuck
Southwest Regional WWTP Plant Upgrade and Expansion
- Hall, Brian
Funding Nutrient Reduction Options for Nonpoint Source Pollution
- Logan, Joe
Nutrient Trading Programs in Ohio
- Bridgeman, Thomas
Harmful Algal Blooms in Western Lake Erie
- Meinert, Bill
Nutrient Removal Program Examples: Related Regulatory Actions and Funding
- Reutter, Jeffrey M
Understanding Lake Erie and Its History and Susceptibility to HABs
- Richards, R. Peter
What We Know About Phosphorus Loading to Lake Erie
Technical Advisory Group for Nutrient Water Quality Standards
Ohio EPA's current approach to address nutrient pollution is based on narrative standards for protection against adverse aesthetic conditions and harm to aquatic life. In 1999, Ohio EPA published a report that translated these narrative standards into target phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations to protect aquatic life. Regulatory activities taken by Ohio EPA, including Total Maximum Daily Loads and point source discharge limits, have used these target nutrient values for the past 14 years.
For the past 10 years, Ohio EPA has been working on developing new nutrient standards. This work was initiated in response to U.S. EPA's publication of national nutrient criteria recommendations in 2003 and Clean Water Act Section 106 grant work plan commitments. U.S. EPA has continued to encourage, and in some cases require, States to adopt numeric water quality criteria for nutrients.
In April 2013, Ohio EPA announced an Early Stakeholder Outreach public comment period regarding nutrient criteria in Ohio's water quality standard regulations. The Nutrient Technical Advisory Group (TAG) will advise the Agency as it moves forward with the next steps in the task of developing State surface water quality standards for nutrients.
Nutrient TAG agenda material and minutes are available on this web site. Attendance at TAG meetings is limited to members, alternates and invited observers.
Nutrient Mass Balance
The fourth edition of the Nutrient Mass Balance Study for Ohio’s Major Rivers was completed for thirteen watersheds in Ohio covering 72.59 percent of the state’s land area. The watersheds studied were in both the Lake Erie and Ohio River drainages. The objective of the study is to determine nutrient (phosphorus and nitrogen) loads and relative proportions of point and nonpoint sources. The study highlights differences between the watersheds both as total loads and relative contributions from different sources in the watersheds. The Hocking and Little Miami rivers’ watersheds were added to the 2022 version of the study. Also, U.S. Census 2020 results are used to update the human population which improves various calculations.
The 2022 report can be viewed here.
- The third edition of the report was released in 2020 and can be viewed here.
- The second edition of the report was released in 2018 and can be viewed here.
- The first edition of the report was released in 2016 and can be viewed here.
Phosphorus Task Force
In 2012, Ohio EPA, in partnership with the Ohio Lake Erie Commission, the Ohio Department of Agriculture, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reconvened the Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force as a Phase II effort. A wide range of participants in a variety of disciplines, including members of the original Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force, and agri-business representatives and crop consultants, came together to build upon the findings of the 2010 Phosphorus Task Force report and assess new information.
The purpose of Phosphorus Task Force Phase II was to:
- Develop recommendations for reduction targets for total and dissolved reactive phosphorus that can be used to track future progress; and
- Develop policy and management recommendations based upon new and emerging data and information.
The Task Force's report incorporates findings of current research, develops a broader consensus on the management actions necessary to decrease algae blooms in Lake Erie, and proposes new recommendations. The recommendations in this report reflect the Task Force members' mutual agreement on key issues based on the science and data currently available. As additional research data and results from program implementation become available, the Task Force expects that recommendations for action will evolve over time.
- Phase II Members and Observers
- Phase II Final Report
Phase II Agendas, Notes and Presentations
*** Meeting Materials - Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force - Phase II ***
May 31, 2012
August 1, 2012
- Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement - Kevin O'Donnell, USEPA GLNPO
- Lake Erie LaMP: Ecological Endpoints - Amy Jo Klei, Ohio EPA
- TMDLs in Lake Erie Basin - Trinka Mount, Ohio EPA
- What Is Soil Health/Soil Quality - Matt Deaton, ODNR
- Ohio Revisions to the 590 Standards - Mark Scarpitti, NRCS
September 5, 2012
- Meeting Locations - Revised 12/4/2012
- Part 624 Drainage from the National Engineering Handbook (chapter 10)
October 3, 2012
- Phosphorus Loading to Lake Erie: An Update (Mostly Maumee) - R. Peter Richards, Heildelberg University
November 7, 2012
- P Principles Document Summary - Ron Wyss
- Link to full article: Kleinman, P.J.A. et. al. 2011. Managing agricultural phosphorus for water quality protection : principles for progress. Plant Soil 349: 169-182.
- Phosphorus Loading to Lake Erie: Exploring Running Averages - R. Peter Richards, Heildelberg University
January 9, 2013
- Models Can Support Establishment of Phosphorus Loading Targets for Lake Erie - J.V. DePinto, LimnoTech and Don Scavia, University of Michigan
February 6, 2013
March 14, 2013
- USDA, NRCS - Key Findings from the CEAP - Cropland Assessment of the Effects of Conservation Practices on Cultivated Cropland in the Chesapeake Bay Region
- USDA, NRCS - Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP)
- USDA, NASS - Surveys - CEAP
- Ohio 130th General Assembly Draft Bill LSC 130 0081-2
- Phosphorus Loading and Concentration Recommendations
April 3, 2013
May 1, 2013
- Upper Midwest Potential for DRM
- Percent Acres Using Subsurface Drainage
- Compilation of Agriculture Survey Results
- Ohio Nutrient Balance - Dr. Robert Mullen, Potash Corp.
- Forecasting Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) in Lake Erie - Dr. Rick Stumpf, NOAA
June 25, 2013
Phase I Information
In consultation with Heidelberg University, Ohio EPA convened the Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force in 2007 to review and evaluate the increasing dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) loading trends and the connection to the deteriorating conditions in Lake Erie. The Task Force was charged to identify and evaluate potential point and nonpoint sources and related activities that might be contributing to the increasing trends in DRP. The Task Force included a wide range of participants and presentations by invited experts in a variety of disciplines. This report presents the findings of the Task Force along with recommendations for future management actions for Ohio.
Phase I Agendas, Notes and Presentations
*** Meeting Materials ***
November 9, 2009
October 5, 2009
August 26, 2009
April 29, 2009
- Assimilative Capacity of Riparian Zones, Floodplains and Channels for Phosphorus - Erin Sherer, Ohio EPA, Division of Surface Water
- Stream Services and Channel Morphology - Dan Mecklenburg, ODNR, Division of Soil and Water Conservation
- Rural Drainage Overview - Kirk Hines, ODNR, Division of Soil and Water Conservation
March 17, 2009
January 13, 2009
November 4, 2008
October 1, 2008
- Technical Report for Review of Annex 3 of the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement
- Evaluation of Land Use/Land Cover Characteristics in Ohio Drainages to Lake Erie - Prepared by Dan Button/USGS
- How does Lake Erie process the phosphorus load it receives, and has the Dreissenid invasion changed things? By Joe DePinto - LimnoTech
July 30, 2008
June 25, 2008
- Ohio Public Water Systems and Phosphate Use ... revisited
- Package Plants (e.g., Schools, Mobile Home Parks, Churches, etc.). A brief overview of operation, permitting and relative contribution of Phosphorus to Lake Erie. Rick Wilson. Ohio EPA-Division of Surface Water
May 13, 2008
- Coastal Eutrophication and Hypoxia: Expressions of a Global Problem in the Western Basin of Lake Erie
April 25, 2008
March 27, 2008
February 29, 2008
- Empirical Evidence Supporting Development of Nutrient Water Quality Standards for Rivers and Streams. Robert J. Miltner, Ohio EPA-Division of Surface Water
January 28, 2008
- Phosphorus Loading from Combined Sewer Overflows. Seth Hothem, Northeastern Ohio Regional Sewer District
December 20, 2007
- 1988 to 2006. NEORSD's Average Effluent Total Phosphorus Loadings to the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie
October 23, 2007
- Trends in Annual Export of Dissolved Reactive Phosphorus From Northwestern Ohio Watersheds, 1975-2007. Data from the Heidelberg College National Center for Water Quality Research
- A comparison of trends in dissolved (DRP) and total phosphorus (TP) export from the Sandusky and Cuyahoga Rivers. Data from the Heidelberg College National Center for Water Quality Research
- A look at Phosphorus Effluent Data from Ohio WWTPs in Lake Erie Drainage 1996-2006. Rick Wilson-Ohio EPA-Division of Surface Water
September 10, 2007
- Lesson 34, Agricultural Phosphorus Management: Protecting Production and Water Quality By Andrew Sharpley, USDA-Agricultural Research Service
- Summary of Pertinent Phosphorus Research AND Overview Of Livestock Poultry Environmental Stewardship, Lesson 34
- Utility of P Index Framework
- Phosphorus Management in Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (CNMPs)
July 17, 2007
- Blue-Green Algae - Lyngbya Wollei - Maumee Bay first appearance, Fall 2006
- Phosphorus - Historical Agricultural Inputs and Balance in the Lake Erie Basin
- Norm Fausey Discussion on P-Transport
- Phosphorus Chemistry and Sequestration in Soil
May 23, 2007
- Ohio Public Water Systems and Phosphate Use
- Phosphorus Impairment in Lake Erie Tributaries in Ohio
- Phosphorus Soil Test Trends in NW Ohio and the Potential for Stratification of Phosphorus
March 27, 2007
- Brief Overview of Phosphorus Loading to Lake Erie
- Lake Erie Background from a Nutrient Perspective
- Soil Test Values & Possible Impact of DRP
- Overview of External Phosphorus Loading
- GLNPO Monitoring Program on Lake Erie
- Lake Erie Trophic Status Collaborative Study
- Microcystis Blooms in Western Lake Erie
- Phosphorus Trends
Phase I References
- Analysis of Effectiveness of Ohio NRCS Practice Standards in Addressing Five Leading Causes of Water Quality Impairment, Rick Wilson Environmental Specialist, Ohio EPA -Division of Surface Water, March 1, 2010.
- Slide Show: Soil Organic Matter and Nutrient Recycling With Cover Crops and Manure. James J. Hoorman & Dr. Rafiq Islam, The Ohio State University-Extension
- Slide Show: Nitrogen and Phosphorus Risk Assessment Tools, Nitrogen Leaching Index, Phosphorus Soil Test Method, Phosphorus Index USDA-NRCS
- Slide Show: Managing Manure in no-till. Peter Kleinman USDA ARS, Douglas Beegle Penn State, Joel Myers USDA-NRCS (retired)
- Slide Show: Phosphorus Transport From the Soil to Surface Water, Field Observations Supported by a Review of Current Literature. Rick Wilson, Ohio EPA-Division of Surface Water
- Slide Show: Phosphorus and Water Quality (beyond erosion control). Peter Kleinman, USDA-ARS
- Slide Show: Targeting Best Management in Contrasting Watersheds. Andrew Sharpley, Tommy Daniel, Sheri Herron & Bil Gburek. University of Arkansas, BMP’s Inc. & USDA-ARS
- Poster: Ohio Fertilizer Flow Chart. Heidelberg College National Center for Water Quality Research
- Agricultural Phosphorus & Eutrophication
- Association Between Nutrients, Habitat, and the Aquatic Biota in Ohio Rivers and Streams Ohio EPA Technical Bulletin MAS/1999-1-1
- Lake Erie Trophic Status Collaborative Study