Monday, December 3rd, 2012

State chief vows to enforce farm manure rules

By Nancy Allen
GRAND LAKE - Ohio's top soil and water official promised action against farmers in the Grand Lake Watershed who violate new manure rules aimed at curbing toxic blue-green algae blooms in the lake.
Karl Gebhardt, chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Soil and Water Resources, spoke to a capacity crowd at Saturday's Lake Improvement Association meeting at the Celina Moose Lodge.
Gebhardt said chief's orders will be issued to farmers who do not meet a Dec. 15 deadline to have a nutrient management plan - one part of the new rules local livestock farmers must follow due to the watershed being designated distressed in 2010.
"I've been challenged by some with 'yeah, I'll believe it when I see it,' " Gebhardt said of issuing chief's orders. "I'm telling you, you're going to see it."
A nutrient management plan is a formal document that tells farmers how to best manage their manure so it does not run off and cause pollution in waterways. The 13,500-acre lake's algae is fed mostly by phosphorous found in manure, which runs off farmland, the largest land use in the watershed.
Gebhardt said 18 of the 156 farm operations required to have nutrient management plans have not submitted them.
"Several have chosen not to participate," he said. "We'll deal with those folks."
A chief's order will advise a remedy in a specified amount of time. Violation of a chief's order is a first-degree misdemeanor. Noncompliance with a chief's order could result in a case being referred to the Ohio Attorney General's Office and then a local court for prosecution. Gebhardt said he also might refer cases to the Ohio Department of Agriculture to force farms to follow the same rules as a state-permitted facility.
The 156 farm operations own 270 livestock farms in the 58,000-acre watershed that drains into the lake. Grand Lake has been under state-issued water advisories the last four summers due to unsafe algae toxin levels.
Gephardt noted farmers have accomplished a lot in a short amount of time. When officials first began a push a few years ago to have farmers get the plans, just 25 percent of the 46,000 crop acres in the watershed were covered for manure application. To date, 85 percent of those acres are covered, he said.
Gebhardt said the state must follow through with consequences for breaking the rules.
"It's not fair to you folks here, it's not fair to farmers who are following the rules and it's not fair to the people who fish in or hunt on this lake," he said. "Chief's orders will be issued, and we will go the attorney general's office for those who don't meet the rules."
Another approaching deadline is Jan. 19, the date when farmers will be banned from applying any manure from Dec. 15 through March 1 unless permission from the state is received. Farmers also will be banned from surface applying manure on frozen ground or ground with more than one inch of snow outside those dates, must show they have 120 days of manure storage and cannot surface apply manure if the local forecast has greater than 50 percent chance of exceeding a half inch of precipitation 24 hours after application starts. If the ground is frozen and/or snow-covered outside the Dec. 15 through March 1 time period, farmers can apply manure as long as they work it into the ground within 24 hours. On-farm inspections are expected to start a few months after Jan. 19 and will be done every three years.
"Monitoring and inspection compliance will not be easy, but we're going to do it," Gebhardt said.
The state and federal government have provided millions in funds to help farmers build manure storage, export waste from the watershed and apply alum to the lake to curb algae blooms, he said.
The state will continue to investigate new technologies for manure management, reduction of phosphorous in manure and control tile flow and runoff, Gebhardt added.
There's a push to help businesses take  manure out of the watershed to use as a resource. A company from Wisconsin has stalled plans to build a plant that would have turned manure into organic fertilizer after financing fell through.
"We are looking at ways to transport manure out, or farm expansions may need to be capped until we can move it out," Gebhardt said.
The image that Grand Lake is unusable also must be changed, he said.
"You've come a long way, but there is more work to be done. I'm confident we're headed in the right direction," he said.
Gebhardt promised to look for state money to keep funding two nutrient management technician positions for at least another two years and to make more state staff available to the watershed to help with keeping the plans up to date.
The technician positions were created with temporary funding to help livestock farmers complete the nutrient management plans; the state this summer allocated additional money to keep the jobs another year. Local soil and water officials want the positions made permanent.
   During a question and answer period that followed, local developer Steve Klosterman criticized the state for not doing more to help lake residents and business owners dealing with the effects of the sick lake.
Farmers have seen record crop and farmland prices in recent years and have received millions in tax-dollar subsidized money to build manure storage and implement other measures, Klosterman said, calling the financial support that has been provided "lopsided" toward agriculture.
"The farmers caused this problem, and it's the ODA's and EPA's fault because they didn't monitor it," Klosterman said. "We're the victims here, and we're the ones paying."
Another man in the crowd said lake homeowners are not able to refinance homes; federal help is needed.
"The  option does not exist; Fannie Mae is not allowing for refinancing of homes," he said. "We need help with that, higher than you, we need federal help."
Gebhardt also said it "was not fair" and added that politicians are working to get more money to the watershed.
LIA members on Saturday also voted to re-elect president Tim Lovett, who pledged to continue to work toward improving the lake by working with all stakeholders. His opponent, Kate Anderson, had pledged to redirect LIA resources to focus on stopping polluters and advocate for better enforcement of existing water quality laws if elected.
Grand Lake St. Marys State Park Dredge Supervisor Tom Grabow reported that dredges removed a record 289,861 cubic yards of sediment from the lake this season. Last year the state removed 272,000 cubic yards, which was then a record. This year's sediment is equal to 19,334 dump truck loads. Lined up end to end, the trucks would stretch 87.8 miles, Grabow said.
There will be no January LIA meeting.
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