Tuesday, August 10th, 2010
Farmers learn details on rules for management
By Nancy Allen
GRAND LAKE - Most of the blame for the toxic condition of Grand Lake has been put on farmers in the watershed. State officials, including Gov. Ted Strickland, have said they need to step up to the plate to help fix the problem.
Some are doing just that.
On Monday, about 165 farmers showed up for a meeting in Maria Stein to learn about proposed new manure management rules. Also, officials announced nearly a third of the $1 million in emergency funds made available to farmers just three weeks ago already has been applied for to implement conservation practices.
The meeting on Monday was quiet and cordial with a few questions. After formal presentations were made, farmers talked with various local and state ag officials in a casual setting.
"We all need to come together and work together," said David Hanselmann, chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Soil and Water Resources. "It is certainly going to take a concerted effort over time."
The proposed manure management rules are for what the state is calling a "distressed watershed." The 59,000-acre Grand Lake watershed is comprised mostly of farmland. Its nutrient runoff has been feeding the lake's toxic blue-green algae, which has bloomed excessively this summer and caused the state to issue advisories telling people to stay out of the lake.
The new rules would require all watershed farmers to have a nutrient management plan and would prohibit manure application between Dec. 15 and March 1 without prior approval or anytime the ground is frozen and/or snow-covered. The proposed rules would be phased in and become effective by March 1, 2012.
During the phase-in period, farmers will be expected to use USDA guidelines for applying manure on frozen and/or snow-covered ground, which include following recommended application rates and setbacks from waterways.
Those who do not comply with the guidelines could be subject to chief's orders and penalties, Hanselmann said. A chief's order advises a remedy in a specified amount of time. Violation of a chief's order is a first-degree misdemeanor.
Local soil and water officials said they have been overwhelmed with farmers coming in to sign up for emergency federal money that pays them to install conservation practices such as manure storage, cover crops and transporting manure from the watershed.
Just three weeks ago, the area received $1 million in emergency money for farmers, and local officials already have accepted 62 applications for $300,000. Jim Will, district conservationist for Mercer County, said 17 awards were for transporting manure from the watershed, 31 to plant cover crops and 14 to plant cover crops and transport manure.
A second round of application rankings began Monday. The deadline to apply is Aug. 20.
Most of the phosphorous loading to the watershed occurs during heavy snow melt and rainfall from December through May when there are no crops growing and runoff easily occurs, said Jim Hoorman, Mercer County OSU Extension educator.
Hoorman said nutrient loads in a 2006 Total Maximum Daily Load study of the watershed compared to recent data from a water quality monitoring station on the Chickasaw Creek shows nutrients have decreased.
"We're headed in the right direction," he said. "The main problem in this watershed is we're getting way too much runoff that's taking dissolved phosphorous and manure with it."
However, the findings from the Chickasaw Creek data shows that total phosphorus concentrations exceeded the Ohio EPA's standards on more than 80 percent of the days sampled. (A complete copy of the report may be found at www.oh.nrcs.usda.gov/technical).
Farmers at the meeting Monday were encouraged to call the Mercer SWCD office to make appointments to discuss their manure storage and nutrient management plans.
Additional staff are coming to work out of the county soil and water conservation district office to help farmers understand and make changes to their operations to comply with the new rules.
Hanselmann said he wants to present the proposed new manure management rules before the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission on Aug. 23. Farmers may comment on the proposed rules by e-mailing rob.hamilton.dnr.state.oh.us.
The commission would need to approve the rules before they go before the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules (JCAR) and through a public hearing process. The process will take until at least December and then, if approved, be implemented during a two-year phase-in period.
- Copies of the proposed manure management rules are available Mercer SWCD office, or by calling the office at 419-586-3289.