By Nancy Allen
Promoting best management practices aimed at reducing manure runoff into state waters is one of the most important things local lake groups can do to reduce excess nutrients in the Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed, an Ohio EPA official said Monday..
Rick Wilson, of the EPA's Division of Surface Water, spoke to members of the Lake Restoration Committee (LRC) during their regular meeting Monday evening at the Celina Moose Lodge. The LRC, which is a committee of the nonprofit Lake Improvement Association, also marked its one-year anniversary.
Agricultural runoff is the biggest contributor to excess nutrients in the 13,500-acre lake and in the 71,862-acre watershed area that drains into the lake, Ohio EPA water quality testing has shown. Other excess nutrients come from storm water runoff, private septic systems and commercial lawn fertilizers.
Wilson said he has spent a lot of time walking creeks and rivers in the local watershed and throughout the state, taking samples and investigating manure releases from farm fields and livestock farms.
Producers who violate water quality standards are sent a notice of violation, which is a document that lists the problems and suggestions for fixing them, he said. Despite what many people think, fines are a last resort, he said.
"Monetary enforcement is a last resort. We've found that beating people over the head is not the best way to get their cooperation," Wilson said. "Our main goal is that the facility in noncompliance do the planning and get fixes in place so noncompliance does not continue."
Cases where producers ignore violation notices or continue to pollute can be sent to the Ohio Attorney General's Office for enforcement and possible fines, Wilson said.
The most basic guidelines can do the most to help reduce pollution incidents associated with manure, Wilson said. Those include checking farm field tiles for manure infiltration after applying manure, lowering application rates and not spreading manure on frozen ground.
Wilson said he investigated a number of pollution incidents over the last three years in Mercer County where producers had land-applied liquid dairy or hog manure on frozen ground. Once the thaw came, the manure simply melted and ran off into creeks and streams, polluting them.
Ohio EPA standards allow the land application practice, but only if six provisions designed to reduce the possibility of pollution incidents have been met, he said.
Federal dollars aimed at reducing pollution from manure are available and can be researched at county Farm Service Agency offices. Funds in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) help pay for tile plugs, tile risers and manure storage facilities, he said.
The Ohio EPA is working on organizing manure applicators, the people who producers pay to spread manure on their fields.
"Our goal is to organize them and give them licenses and certify them so they know how to responsibly apply manure," Wilson said.
The next Lake Improvement Association meeting is 10 a.m. Oct. 2 at the Celina Moose Lodge. The public meeting will be a forum to ask the seven candidates from Mercer and Auglaize counties running for county commissioner questions dealing with the lake and water quality.
The next LRC meeting is 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Celina Moose Lodge.