- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 21, 2015

WILLIS, Mich. (AP) - Two members of Congress introduced legislation Tuesday that encourages states in the Great Lakes region to develop voluntary programs aimed at reducing farm pollution that causes harmful algae blooms.

Reps. Tim Walberg and Candice Miller, both Michigan Republicans, said the initiatives should be modeled after the Michigan Agricultural Environmental Assistance Program, which helps producers cut back on fertilizer and pesticide runoff.

Growers who successfully participate, using methods such as improving manure storage and planting vegetation buffer strips between crops and streams, can get official certification and financial assistance.

Under the bill, states could apply for U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to administer and promote programs similar to the one in Michigan. Farmers would get priority consideration for conservation project funding.

“Responsible stewardship of our land and Great Lakes will help ensure the health of our economy and environment today and for generations to come,” Walberg said.

Harmful algae has been a worsening menace on portions of the Great Lakes - especially Lake Erie - for the past two decades. High levels of a toxin formed by blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, left more than 400,000 people in Toledo, Ohio, and southeastern Michigan without safe tap water for two days last August.

Since then, Ohio has ordered farmers in the northwestern part of the state not to spread manure on frozen and rain-soaked fields and required them to get training before using commercial fertilizers. The International Joint Commission, a U.S.-Canadian agency, last year urged states in the Lake Erie basin and the Canadian province of Ontario to ban manure spreading on frozen land.

But farm groups say voluntary programs give them flexibility to choose the most effective management practices.

The Michigan Farm Bureau says more than 10,000 farmers have taken steps to enroll their land in the state program.

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