SALEM, Ohio — The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is awaiting Congressional action on a Nutrient Reduction Strategy that it submitted to the federal EPA June 28.
The proposal seeks new limits on the amounts of phosphorus and nitrogen that can enter Ohio’s various streams and water bodies, but in relation to the aquatic life in a particular stream, and other biological factors.
“This will provide a more robust analysis by looking at the biological and chemical measurements to determine the complete health of a stream or a river,” said Chris Abbruzzese, deputy director of communications for Ohio EPA.
He said the proposal looks at things like the concentration of nutrients, amount of algae present, dissolved oxygen and the health of the fish and the bugs in the stream.
Those things “should provide more flexibility,” he said, than just looking at nutrient numbers alone.
The proposal made state headlines mid-October, following an Associated Press report. But the proposal has actually been in the works for several years, including a draft that was first submitted to the federal EPA in 2011.
In addition, the federal EPA has requested a Nutrient Reduction Strategy from Ohio, and the current proposal was submitted in part to meet that request.
Abbruzzese said it also fits within the work being done by Ohio farmers and stakeholders, who met in 2011 and 2012 as part of a work group to advise state agency directors on water quality recommendations.
“This (federal proposal) is another piece of the puzzle that goes along with all of the other work that is being done (in Ohio) to address nutrient management issues,” he said.
The work group presented its recommendations to the heads of the Department of Natural Resources, Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and ultimately to Gov. John Kasich and the Ohio legislature.
Abbruzzese said a new task force is being formed to consider what the nutrient standards should be, and that its members include a diverse cross-section of stakeholders, including farmers. Those members are expected to be announced any day.
Larry Antosch, senior director of policy development and environmental policy with Ohio Farm Bureau, said this task force will work to “establish benchmarks” for nutrient standards, a process that could take up to a year, followed by the formal rule-making process.
Antosch said Farm Bureau’s concern is setting benchmarks that are reasonable and obtainable, and that take into account the different geographic regions of the state, including differences in typography and farming practices.
“If you establish one number across the state, you won’t be picking up on those regional differences,” he said.
There are still many unknowns, like how the standards will be used and enforced. But Antosch said the task force does appear to have broad membership, including farmers, environmental organizations and others who will be impacted.
Related link: Water quality: What’s being done, what should be done?
Abbruzzese called the proposal is a “blue print” for determining “the health of the streams.”
“First, you determine whether the stream is impaired or not, and if it is then you have to go about how do we fix the impairment,” he said.
The complete Nutrient Reduction Strategy is available on the Ohio EPA website at epa.ohio.gov/dsw/wqs/NutrientReduction.aspx.