Ohio’s soil and water program to transfer to ag department

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Draiange ditch
An improved drainage ditch system, using two-stage design. (Farm and Dairy file photo)

SALEM, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Agriculture will begin the new year with some new staff and some new responsibilities related to soil and water conservation.

Beginning Jan. 1, the current Division of Soil and Water Resources, which is part of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, will transfer to the ag department, as part of legislation approved in the state budget bill, H.B. 64.

The change is already taking place, and will result in about 27 employees transferring to the ag department, along with existing programs related to soil and water conservation.

In addition, the programs and staff related to storm water issues have been moved to the Ohio EPA, according to ODNR, and the programs and staff related to silviculture have been moved to ODNR’s Division of Forestry.

More efficient

Mike Bailey, chief of the ODNR Division of Soil and Water Resources, said the change is a way of increasing efficiency among the state agencies, and adapting to changing issues, like water quality and nutrient management.

The ODNR will rename the existing division the “Division of Water Resources,” Bailey said, and will focus on things like safety of dams, ground water and flood water management.

“They (agency directors) realized there were some potential redundancies,” he said, adding that with new laws and regulations related to nutrients, it made sense to “house these nutrient-related programs under one shop.”

New focus

The past couple years, Ohio has passed several new laws related to water quality and nutrient application.

In 2014, the legislature and governor approved S.B. 150 — a law that requires farmers who spread fertilizer on more than 50 acres to become state certified. And in April 2015, state lawmakers approved a bill that limits winter application of manure and fertilizer when the ground is frozen, or when heavy precipitation is expected.

Same programs

According to John Schlichter, deputy director at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the rules and programs will transfer as they exist now.

According to H.B. 64, the ag department must “adopt rules that are identical to rules adopted by the director of natural resources,” and the bill stipulates that all operation and management plans developed prior to the transfer, continue as they were developed.

No one is being laid off or displaced. About nine employees have moved offices from the Columbus-based ODNR to the Reynoldsburg-based ag department, said Bailey, and the rest are generally field office employees, who will continue to work at the same location.

The staff will soon have new contacts and email addresses, but in the meantime, old contacts will still be routed to the same employees, Schlichter said.

“It’s a good move to bring everything together … all the nutrient regulation under one house now,” Schlichter said.

The changes are available in a bulletin on the ODNR website, at soilandwater.ohiodnr.gov.

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