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Ohio agencies announce water quality measures

The Directors’ Agricultural Nutrients and Water Quality Working Group spent months compiling their extensive findings on how agriculture is contributing to water quality problems and how this can be controlled. The group was assembled to aggregate all of the available information on the problem, organize it and present it to the directors of the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency, who will then make recommendations to the governor.

Lake Erie

The three Departments today announced their recommendations for reducing excess agricultural nutrients from affecting or entering the western basin of Lake Erie.

“Our agencies worked with Ohio’s agricultural community to identify the best ways to decrease this nutrient loading into Ohio’s water bodies,” said David Daniels, director of the ODA. “The farmers, private companies, agricultural organizations, agri-businesses, environmental organizations and academic institutions were all asked to provide their best input, ideas, advice and guidance. That was the foundation for developing these initial recommendations.”

The report establishes the following key recommendations for action by ODNR, ODA and OEPA:

  • Promote the voluntary “4R Nutrient Stewardship,” which encourages farmers to use the right fertilizer source, at the right rate, at the right time and with the right placement;
  • Utilize a three-tiered, statewide structure for prioritizing the implementation of any recommendations, based upon the condition of any given watershed in Ohio;
  • Coordinate research and align funding streams;
  • Coordinate programmatic funding within OEPA and ODNR;
  • Coordinate communication and outreach effort to farmers;
  • Develop a voluntary, statewide “Certified Nutrient Stewardship Program” for farmers (ODNR);
  • Provide ODA authority to better train Ohio farmers about applying commercial fertilizer;
  • Expand the regulatory authority of ODA to collect more specific geographical data on where fertilizer sales are currently made;
  • Clarify the authority of ODNR to aggressively pursue habitual bad actors; and
  • Expand ODNR’s authority to development Nutrient Management Plans.

“There is no question that there are a variety of factors that are contributing to the increased frequency of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, and many of Ohio’s other streams and water resources,” said Scott Nally, director of the Ohio EPA. “Ohio’s agricultural community is not being singled out. With that being said, fertilizer is a contributing source to the problem and that’s why we felt the need to direct the ag communities’ attention to this problem and then take action.”

In addition to continuing to stress the use of the 4R nutrient management methodology, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Soil and Water Resources will be tasked with coordinating an extensive education and outreach effort, as well as developing a roadmap for implementing the other policy recommendations going forward.

“We have two goals: reduce the occurrence of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie and make sure we protect the region’s productive agricultural base,” said James Zehringer, director of ODNR. “It’s a complex and challenging problem, and a lot more research needs to be done to fully understand the issue; but these are strong, first steps to move us closer to a healthy Lake Erie.”

In all, more than 25 organizations, government agencies, and private companies submitted their recommendations to the three directors.

The final report also includes a list of participants, summaries of the discussion points and letters submitted by organizations and individuals who participated in the working group. View the complete water quality report.

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