Federal officials announce more Lake Erie funding

TOLEDO, OH — Federal officials announced new funding to combat nutrient runoff, algal blooms and other issues plaguing Lake Erie, during an Aug. 19 event in Toledo.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, announced $2 million in new federal emergency funds to reduce runoff in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Brown also outlined additional federal resources available to improve water quality.

“We can and must stop runoff before it starts,” Brown said. “But we all have to work together to tackle this threat and this new federal funding is such a critical component. But these federal funds are just the beginning — we need to utilize every available resource and innovation to reduce the risk for toxic growth, preserve the local environment, and protect our water supply.”

Conservation practices

Brown and Kaptur were joined by Terry Cosby, Ohio’s state conservationist with NRCS, to outline how the new funding — part of NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) — provides resources for producers to implement conservation practices.

These include preventive measures to reduce phosphorus runoff and prevent pollution in the Lake Erie Watershed.

Related: Ohio officials announce state funding.

Cosby said he and his staff spent last week meeting with farmers in the 20 Ohio counties in the western Lake Erie watershed.

“They told us they understand how the recent events may impact them and are ready and willing to do what it takes to stop phosphorus run-off, starting right now with cover crops,” he said. “We created this opportunity using EQIP to make it easier for them to get cover on their fields, and urge them to follow up with us to create a complete nutrient management plan.”

A number of factors contribute to algae blooms, including warm water, lack of agitation, rainfall and runoff from farms, lawns, and other sources.

Using EQIP

Bill Myers, president of Lucas County Farm Bureau, discussed how he has used EQIP on his 2,000-acre, Oregon-area farm in northwestern Ohio.

In addition to the emergency funds, Brown discussed the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) — which he helped establish in the 2014 Farm Bill — that would provide up to $1.2 billion nationwide for farmers to implement conservation measures, including those that could reduce runoff into Lake Erie.

The Tri-State Western Lake Erie Basin Phosphorus Reduction Initiative, a partnership among Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, has advanced to the next stage of consideration for a $20 million federal award — $13 million of which would go to Ohio.

Brown also announced plans to reintroduce the Clean Water Affordability Act, which would direct additional funding to communities in Ohio to eliminate combined sewer overflows, which are a contributing factor in harmful algal blooms.

Brown first introduced this legislation with former Senator George V. Voinovich, R-Ohio, in 2008 and worked with local officials across Ohio to fine-tune the bill. Brown plans to reintroduce the bill this fall.

Taking action

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said farmers are doing their part, and it’s important to continue supporting them.

“Many farmers have consistently stepped up to the plate on efforts to protect our water and we want to provide support and incentives for continued action,” Vilsack said.

Along with these resources, USDA will offer technical and financial assistance through direct relationships with farmers, and by partnering with private and public groups on continuing conservation efforts in the Great Lakes basin, Vilsack said.
Applicants can find more information or apply for funds at www.nrcs.usda.gov/getstarted.

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