Ohio’s water quality work group puts forth recommendations for ag


REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — A work group designed to form and assess water quality recommendations submitted its work Jan. 23 during a meeting that included directors of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Agency.

Known as the Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group, the 120 or so members included farmers, industry experts and researchers, who helped form a 35-page list of recommendations to be submitted to Gov. John Kasich Feb. 1.

The recommendations cover research, education and outreach, regulatory incentives and production practices geared toward reducing and minimizing ag-related water quality issues. Most of the recommendations are framed around the popular “4-R’s” concept — apply the right rate of nutrients at the right time, with the right method, and the right place.

What’s included

Several new committees are called for, including a “questions committee” and a “research review committee.” The questions committee would organize questions to be asked of the state agencies and individuals to “fill in some research gaps” and organize the most relevant questions. The research review committee will include universities, state and federal agencies and farmer groups.

The “4-R’s” have been part of the recommendations throughout the seven meetings the work group has held, but each point now has a definition of what the “right” amount actually is.

The right rate of phosphorous, according to the recommendations, means using reliable soil test information, good crop recommendations, well-maintained and calibrated equipment to ensure accurate applications, and accurate records of soil tests and yields produced.

The right place for phosphorous means that it should be injected or incorporated whenever possible and if surface applications are made, the field should have a growing crop or cover as soon as possible.

The right time means nutrients should not be applied to frozen or snow-covered ground, nutrients should be applied as close to crop utilization as possible and projected precipitation should be considered and avoided.

Bringing it together

Some recommendations appear more complete and measurable, while others are still being decided and will likely develop over the next several months. The three directors said they will include all recommendations in an attachment to presented to the governor and his policy staff, but will condense the key points to a few pages.

“It’s incredibly complicated,” said Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally. “Now it’s the three of us (and we) must boil it down to a handful of recommendations.”

Nally said the challenging part will be making recommendations from conflicting views on the same issue. The majority of the work group approved the recommendations, but on an individual basis, some issues still spur debate and uncertainty.

“Because you’ve got both sides of an argument on here, we’re going to have to take a position, and that position may not be a consensus across this room,” he said.

One issue of debate was how to fund research, education and producer incentive initiatives. It was noted that a $4-$5 per ton check-off fee on fertilizer sales would generate more than $10 million in funding annually.

However, concern was voiced over how this new fee might impact farmers, who would be forced to shoulder additional operating expenses.

“If we tack on yet another fee to the farmer as a tonnage tax fee or usage fee, we’re not going to get as (much participation in) this program,” said John Oster, salesman for Morral Co., a major fertilizer business.

He suggested the group look at a tax reduction or similar measure, if it wants to increase participation from farmers.

Action needed

But, Oster said he generally agrees with the recommendations being made.

“I believe they’re timely and they’re absolutely necessary,” he said. “I believe if we don’t adopt this type of approach as an industry, we risk mandated controls. And I think history has proven that’s seldom very successful.”

Gene Baumgardner, a grain farmer from southwest Ohio and board member of Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association, said humans “can’t exist here without having an impact” on the environment. But, he said farmers are looking for ways to be “responsible stewards” of the land.

Lots of members

James Zehringer, director of Ohio Department of Natural Resources, said the diversity of the group was important. Participants grew from a few dozen in the beginning, to 120 at the seventh and final meeting Jan. 23.

“There was a lot of interest to be part of this group and it was a very well diversified group,” he said.

Zehringer expects the governor and his policy staff to review the recommendations, and if more discussions are needed, he expects group members still will be available.

He said the issue is serious and timely, noting the department of agriculture began promoting the “four-r” application in the fall, while he was still ag director. The efforts will only continue, he predicted.

“We needed to implement things right away,” he said. “We said right at the beginning, doing nothing is not an option. Something had to be done right away.”

Tony Forshey, interim ag director, will oversee the agricultural interests in what is presented to the governor. He called it “a very high priority for agriculture.”

Nally said meetings will also continue with municipalities and other sources of water pollution and nutrient loading. Recommendations from those groups will be presented to the governor as well, but at a later date.


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  1. City and farmers cause water pollution by what EPA calls nutrients, because they use fertilizer on their lawns and fields and some may runoff when rains. But the reason farmers use fertilizer is to grow food, which eventually will be eaten by humans in cities, where it will end up in sewage as nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste.

    Congress passed the Clean Water Act (CWA) with the goal of eliminating all water pollution by 1985 or as Senator Muskie stated on the Senate floor in 1972: “This law simple means that we can not use our rivers to treat our sewage any longer”.

    Unfortunately, when EPA implemented the CWA by setting sewage treatment standards for the NPDES (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System) permits, it used an essential test incorrect and, as one of its many negative consequences, ignored 60% of the pollution, caused by the oxygen exerting waste in sewage, Congress clearly intended to treat by passing the CWA. EPA also, because of this faulty applied test, ignored all the pollution caused by nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste in sewage, while this waste besides exerting an oxygen demand (like fecal waste) also is a fertilizer for algae and contributes to the formation of dead zones and even the invasion of Asian carp, the same type of pollution EPA now claims caused by farmers. (www.petermaier.net)

    When regulations clearly are not only implementing, even violating the intent of an Act, one has to wonder, why nobody is holding EPA accountable, meanwhile participating in other new programs clearly dealing with the fact that EPA never implemented the CWA.

    • Cleveland sewer plants run untreated sewage into Lake Erie and it’s tributaties when rainfall exceeds 1″ in a 24 hour period. They cannot process all of the combined storm water and sewage.

      No one stops to think where the waste goes everytime they flush a toilet. Farmers, on the other hand, are very cognizant of the cosequences when applying fertilizer. Fertilizer is a costly expense that farmers want to keep in the root zone, not in the waterways.

      Thank you Dr. Meir for your valuable insights.

      • Most old cities have combined sewer systems as they originally were meant to get rid of the waste in the streets, where live took place. Most cities also were located along rivers were this waste was untreated disposed. Sewage treatment was developed in the late eighteen hundreds mainly for those cities where sewage could not be disposed in open waters and at that time the main focus was on controlling odors. Their hydraulic capacities were also limited and when the same conventional treatment technology was applied on sewage collected in combined systems, when discharging into rivers was not any longer allowed, the restricted hydraulic capacities, required that cities needed CSO’s (Combined Sewer Overflows), which become active if a certain flow rate was exceeded.

        Many cities with combined systems are now faced with the fact that they have these overflows due to limited hydraulic capacities of their odor control treatment plants, besides the fact that they do not treat nitrogenous waste. The engineering community prefers to replace the combined system with a separate system or built large holding areas but this again will not solve the real problems, as nitrogenous waste still is not treated in municipal sewage and storm water obviously is not as clean as first thought.

        A much better approach would be to close the CSO’s and replace the existing odor control facility with a real sewage treatment plant, that not only also will treat the nitrogenous waste, but can handle the large variable hydraulic flow rates.
        Many immediately will claim that this would be too expensive, but already in 1978 EPA officially acknowledged that not only much better (including nitrogenous waste) treatment was possible, but that such systems actually could be build and operates at much lower cost as the conventional systems. The total cost would be much lower as replacing the combined systems with a separate system and also would be much better for our environment. But sadly as long as we do not correct this essential test, that will steer us in the right direction, we will keep wasting time and money.


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