COLUMBUS — Directors for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture and Ohio EPA formally announced their recommendations for water quality improvement during a media conference call March 15.
The recommendations follow six months of discussions by Ohio’s ag water quality work group, and a month and a half of preparing the final report for Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
The work group consisted of 125 farmers and farm-related professionals, who made final recommendations to the directors Jan. 23 at the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
The recommendations are aimed at improving the amount of agricultural nutrients reaching Ohio’s water bodies and causing environmental havoc — especially the blooming of harmful algae.
Officials hope to maintain and restore the health of Ohio lakes, while “keeping ag and ag production at its highest levels,” said Ohio Agriculture Director David Daniels.
Ag fertilizers and livestock manure are known contributors to the issue — along with municipal waste through failed sewer systems, landscaping and storm runoff.
“It’s important to make sure the recommendations are measured to ag’s very small portion of the algal blooms in both the Western Basin and Grand Lake St. Mary’s,” Daniels said.
Officials declined to give an estimated percentage of how much of the problem may be caused by agriculture.
“When we start looking at who’s bigger, who’s smaller, then we’re not going to get anywhere,” said James Zehringer, ODNR director. “We’re going to work together and try to do agriculture’s role.”
In a joint statement following today’s press conference, the Ohio Soybean Association and Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association said they “commend Ohio Gov. John Kasich for his cabinet’s efforts to address the quality of Ohio’s waterways and embrace the opportunity to continue to work to protect Ohio’s natural resources.”
Ohio’s commodity leaders have pledged $500,000 toward a related water quality research project spearheaded by Ohio State University.
The recommendations are being reviewed by Kasich’s policy staff. Kasich spokesperson Rob Nichols told Farm and Dairy on March 1 that water quality is “of paramount concern to the governor.”
Nichols said it was premature to give a date for when action on the recommendations could come, but said they’re being closely reviewed.
A second Lake Erie water quality discussion will be held tomorrow with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Democratic Senators Debbie Stabenow and Sherrod Brown. They will be joined by Democratic Representatives John Dingell and Marcy Kaptur at the Cabela’s store in Dundee, Mich.
According to statement sent to media, officials will discuss “additional support to protect the Western Lake Erie Basin and benefit hunting, fishing and recreation by boosting farmers’ conservation efforts.”
Here are the basic recommendations outlined today:
• Promote the voluntary “4R Nutrient Stewardship,” which encourages farmers to use the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time and with the right placement;
• Utilize a three-tiered, statewide structure for prioritizing the implementation of any recommendations, based upon the condition of any given watershed in Ohio;
• Coordinate research and align funding streams;
• Coordinate programmatic funding within OEPA and ODNR;
• Coordinate communication and outreach effort to farmers;
• Develop a voluntary, statewide “Certified Nutrient Stewardship Program” for farmers (ODNR);
• Provide ODA authority to better train Ohio farmers about applying commercial fertilizer;
• Expand the regulatory authority of ODA to collect more specific geographical data on where fertilizer sales are currently made;
• Clarify the authority of ODNR to aggressively pursue habitual bad actors; and
• Expand ODNR’s authority to development Nutrient Management Plans.