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Friday, August 15th, 2008

Farmers won't get money to improve area water quality

By Nancy Allen
Farmers living in the Wabash River Watershed can't use $150,000 in state capital money for conservation practices in an ag incentives program after all. But the money likely will be shifted toward some sort of conservation practices locally, members of the Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District board learned Thursday.
The funds were leveraged by State Rep. Jim Zehringer, R-Fort Recovery, for farmers in the Wabash River Watershed to plant winter cover crops, plant and maintain hay land buffers around ditches, streams, waterways and recharge areas, install waterways and tile control structures, sample manure, perform nitrate testing and install manure flow meters and remote shutoff valves for manure pumps.
These are all practices aimed at improving water quality in the highly agricultural intensive watershed, deemed one of the most degraded in the state based on Ohio EPA water quality testing.
Laura Walker, coordinator of the Grand Lake/Wabash Watershed Alliance, said she found out about two weeks ago the funds could not be used for the practices due to the way the capital budget is worded.
"We submitted our request for the funds last March to Rep. Zehringer to be used in that way and a committee accepted our request," Walker said. "Then about two weeks ago we found out we couldn't use the funds for those practices."
Walker said the state capital budget is worded such that funds can only be used by public bodies and can't be given directly to private landowners. The funds are from the capital budget allocated to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Zehringer said he too was surprised to learn through correspondence with ODNR officials that the funds could not be used for the specified practices, but believes a plan can be worked out so the money can still be used in the Wabash River and Grand Lake watersheds.
"Still we will accomplish our goal to do some work in the watershed," Zehringer said.
Walker said she plans to use some of the state capital money as matching funds toward an Ohio EPA 319 grant the watershed project applied for recently. If the grant is approved, the state capital funds would be used for stream bank stabilization projects, she said.
Another $100,000 in the state's line item funds leveraged by Sen. Keith Faber, R-Celina, for best management practices in the Grand Lake Watershed remain intact, Walker said
Although some farmers had inquired about applying for the funds to plant winter cover crops and install waterways, none had submitted official applications, Walker said. The Mercer SWCD plans to use some additional state cost share funds to help the few producers who want to install grass waterways in the Wabash River Watershed, she said.
Additional online story on this date
The director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) said the state should continue to pursue ethanol as an alternative energy source despite continued high grain costs crushing many livestock producers. [More]
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