Friday, March 13th, 2015
Farmers to receive manure application violation notices
By Nancy Allen
Three Grand Lake Watershed farmers will receive violation notices from the state for applying manure to frozen or snow-covered ground, a violation of the distressed watershed rules meant to curb toxic algae in Grand Lake.
Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District board members reviewed three valid allegations of improper manure application during Thursday's meeting.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources will mail violation notices to John Wuebker, David Wuebker and James Unrast, all of St. Henry. The three incidents were reported March 6.
According to staff reports, John Wuebker's violation resulted after a caller complained about manure being applied to a field on Fleetfoot Road between Kremer-Hoying and Carthagena roads. Officials found pen pack dairy manure had been applied to a field and liquid dairy manure was being applied to a separate field.
While at the site, officials found pen pack dairy manure and liquid dairy manure were being applied to another field on Fleetfoot Road just north of Carthagena Road. This violation was attributed to David Wuebker.
While investigating the second incident, officials found pen pack manure from a heifer operation had been applied to a field on state Route 119 east of state Route 118. This violation was attributed to Unrast.
No manure discharges were found at the sites during subsequent visits.
The ground was frozen and too hard for manure to be incorporated when the incidents occurred, said Ohio nutrient management specialist Frances Springer. The ground reportedly was frozen between 20 and 22 inches deep, SWCD technician Matt Heckler said.
Because of the state's distressed watershed rules, Grand Lake Watershed farmers are banned from applying manure between Dec. 15 and March 1 unless they receive state permission. Outside those dates, surface application of manure on frozen- and/or snow-covered ground is allowed only if the waste is injected or incorporated into the ground within 24 hours of application. Another rule says all farmers in the watershed must have nutrient management plans.
All three farmers have plans, which prohibit applying manure to frozen and/or snow-covered ground, Springer said, adding all watershed farmers have received information on the topic in recent years.
The state designated the Grand Lake watershed distressed in January 2011 after humans and animals were sickened by blue-green algae toxins in the lake.
Nikki Hawk, SWCD administrator/education specialist, said the violation notices carry no fines. However, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Soil and Water Resources could issue chief's orders against the three. A chief's order advises a remedy in a specified amount of time. Violating an order is a first-degree misdemeanor which could result in a fine in a local court.
Hawk said lawmakers trying to pass new legislation to curb toxic Lake Erie algae blooms should make it illegal statewide to apply manure to frozen and/or snow-covered ground.
Legislation in both the House and Senate applies only to land that drains into the Lake Erie western basin. A Lake Erie algae bloom last summer prompted Toledo to issue a two-day drinking water ban for its 400,000 users. Phosphorous, which is found in manure and manmade fertilizers, is the main nutrient contributing to toxic blue-green algae blooms in Grand Lake and Lake Erie.
"It's a hot topic and everybody is talking about it." Hawk said of applying manure to frozen and/or snow-covered ground. Outside the watershed "it's not illegal, but it's not a good practice because the potential for runoff is so much greater."
"Darke County has had 10 to 15 reports of places discharging manure in the last 10 days with 5 to 50 parts per million in ammonia levels," Heckler said. "Van Wert, Champaign and Logan counties we don't usually get any complaints from. There were complaints. It's a statewide problem, not just a western Lake Erie basin problem."
Thirteen parts per million of ammonia in a water sample is considered chronically toxic to aquatic life.
Hawk asked the board for suggestions on how the SWCD office can better educate the farming public.
Board member Bob Homan said he feels the only way farmers will listen is if they are fined for it.
Prior to the new rules mandated by the distressed watershed designation, many farmers used wintertime to haul manure because they were less busy and it is more convenient.
Board member Andy Schwieterman suggested taking the message to a local radio station and contacting a well-known radio ag announcer to talk about the subject.
The board on Thursday also reviewed a pollution complaint reported March 5 at state Route 716 in the Mile Creek watershed and a complaint regarding how manure was being stockpiled in a field on state Route 707 between Wabash and Burrville roads in the St. Marys watershed. Both complaints were deemed invalid.
The board set its next meeting for 8:30 a.m. April 16.