New bill would ban new CAFOs in Ohio’s Maumee River watershed

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pigs in a nursery
Pigs in a barn in northwest Ohio. (Farm and Dairy file photo)

* Updated July 13

Two Toledo-area Democrats introduced a bill that would prohibit new concentrated animal feeding operations from being built in the Maumee River watershed unless certain water quality goals are met.

Rep. Paula Hicks-Hudson, one of the co sponsors of the House Bill 349, said it’s not so much an outright ban as pushing the pause button. The legislation also orders the state’s department of agriculture and environmental protection agency to conduct a study to find other systems for managing manures or other uses for it.

“It’s a necessary addition to what H2Ohio is doing,” she told Farm and Dairy. “We need to do as much as we can as quickly as we can to address the harmful algal bloom … We can’t just rely on one thing because of the detriment to the ecosystem and the economic system of northwest Ohio and Lake Erie.”

She sponsored the legislation with Rep. Michael Sheehy.

Farm groups, though, see it as an attack on their industry and question the motivations behind the legislation.

Ty Higgins, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation communications director, called the bill a “dangerous policy,” in email to Farm and Dairy. He said it’s one that happens when lawmakers are influenced by extreme anti-agriculture groups who put out inaccurate information to fuel their agendas.

“Ohio Farm Bureau is adamantly opposed to this bill,” Higgins said.

Meeting goals

The legislation orders the director of agriculture not to permit a new or expanded concentrated animal feeding operations in northwest Ohio unless in the preceding calendar year, the spring load of total phosphorus must be below 860 metric tons and total dissolved reactive phosphorus must be below 186 metric tons.

These numbers are the goals set out in the Western Lake Erie Basin Collaborative Agreement, put together by Ohio, Michigan and Ontario. The agreement, among other things, sought to reduce phosphorus loads 20% by 2020 and 40% by 2025.

The language of House Bill 349 sets the phosphorus target at the more stringent 2025 goal. This could be a problem as the state hasn’t consistently met the 2020 goal.

“The state has ‘met’ the 20% reduction target in some lower rainfall years, for example in 2016,” according to Heidi Griesmer, deputy director for communications with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The amount of rainfall each year impacts the amount of excess phosphorus that goes into Lake Erie. On top of that, most of the interventions put in place to reduce phosphorus runoff, like the H2Ohio program, haven’t been in place very long.

“These projects need time to be rolled out and to show results,” Griesmer said, in an emailed statement. “In addition to the time needed to make these changes, it remains uncertain whether the implementation of best management practices and restoration of wetlands will result in immediate effects, or if there is some lag time for nutrients already moving through the system to be removed. This is an area of ongoing research.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Lake Erie algal bloom forecast, released June 30, predicts the amount of phosphorus going into the lake this year should be close to the 2025 target, but mostly because of reduced rainfall.

More options

Hicks-Hudson, the former mayor of Toledo, said the legislation’s goal is not to punish farmers or put them out of business. It’s to limit new facilities that would create more manure while a study is done to look into other ways to reduce nutrient runoff. The legislation language calls for the director of agriculture to submit a report to the General Assembly by the end of 2022.

She points to a biosolids dryer at Detroit wastewater treatment plant that turns human waste into fertilizer pellets.

“Is there not more that can be done? I’m saying, yes, there is,” Hicks-Hudson said.

(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be contacted at 800-837-3419 or rachel@farmanddairy.com.)

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Rachel is a reporter with Farm and Dairy and a graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania. She married a fourth-generation beef and sheep farmer and settled down in her hometown in Beaver County. Before coming to Farm and Dairy, she worked at several daily and weekly newspapers throughout Western Pennsylvania covering everything from education and community news to police and courts.

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