CELINA, Ohio — Most producers knew it was coming, but now it’s here: The Grand Lake St. Marys watershed has been designated as “distressed.”
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources designated the watershed in distress Jan. 18 after a recent analysis because of unprecedented algal blooms in 2009 and 2010.
The designation means that farmers will have to possibly make changes in their operations in order to meet the new rules.
Nikki Hawk, district administrator and education specialist with the Mercer Soil and Water Conservation District, said anyone who has livestock or has on a farm where manure is produced will be affected by the new rules, and will need to have a plan for manure storage and hauling on record.
Hawk said there are few hobby farms in the watershed area and most farms are larger or medium-sized operations.
The ODNR analysis was submitted to the seven-member Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission for review and the members unanimously voted to support the designation.
The new designation requires additional regulations for livestock operations and manure management within the distressed watershed. It is the only watershed in Ohio to receive this designation.
Specifically, all livestock operations and manure applicators handling more than 350 tons and/or 100,000 gallons of manure per year must immediately begin following USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service standards for land application.
Hawk said every manure producer should have a manure management plan on file in the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed because of the severity of the problem in the watershed.
“If you are full-time or part-time farmer in the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed, then you need a plan on file,” she said.
The plan should detail how many acres are needed for the hauling, or application of manure for a particular farm, and if additional storage facilities should be created.
One area of concern is that many area farmers haul manure in the winter because of a lack of storage and the runoff that can be a result of the wintertime application.
Hawk said most farmers have been into the SWCD office in either Auglaize or Mercer counties to learn about the new rules even before they were announced.
She said 150 applications have been filed in the Mercer County SWCD for funds through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, or EQIP, to be used to implement practices aimed at keeping nutrients and sediment out of Grand Lake.
Hawk said she expects the number to increase even more as the staff at SWCD goes out to talk with more farmers.
The agriculture industry is being targeted because it is considered the predominant land use in the watershed.
“We are just part of the problem, but we are also going to be part of the solution,” Hawk said.
Nutrient management plans must be submitted to the Division of Soil and Water Resources, and affected operations will be required to conform to the management plans by Dec. 15, 2012. The rules also restrict winter application of manure beginning Jan. 19, 2013.