Some farmers will be banned from spreading manure on their frozen land under new rules that seek to prevent run-off into Ohio’s largest inland lake.
The regulations stem from an outbreak of toxic algae at Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio last summer that led to water warnings and a decline in tourism. The lake, midway between Toledo and Dayton, is one of the state’s most polluted because of run-off of manure and fertilizer from nearby farms.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources on Tuesday designated the lake a distressed watershed, which triggered the new rules.
The 12,700-acre lake is used for boating, swimming and other recreation. It also supplies drinking water for more than 10,000 residents of nearby Celina. Its watershed covers more than 59,000 acres.
In two years, roughly 300 farms in the lake’s watershed will be banned from putting manure on their fields during the winter months, said John Kessler, deputy chief of the department’s Division of Soil and Water Resources.
The ban will last from Dec. 15 to March 1, or when the ground is frozen outside of those dates, unless the farmers first get approval from the agency.
In the meantime, the farmers will be required to follow federal guidelines for manure application. Before Tuesday’s decision, the federal guidelines had only been suggested best practices.
Under the new state regulations, some farmers in the watershed must also develop a written plan by December 2012 for how they’ll get rid of and apply manure in the future.
Joe Cornely, a spokesman for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, said the organization is comfortable with the rules. "We share in the responsibility of improving conditions in the watershed," he said.
Environmentalists had wanted the rules to take affect sooner, and for the time frame of the ban to be longer. Still, they welcomed the decision.
"This new initiative indicates that Ohio’s leadership is stepping forward to try new approaches to protect our shared resources," said Joe Logan, director of agricultural programs with the Ohio Environmental Council.
The two-year period gives the farmers the chance to build storage facilities to house the excess manure that’s not spread over the land.
A spokesman for Gov. John Kasich said Tuesday that the governor believes the rules are a reasonable approach to protecting the lake. Kasich previously has said his preference would be to try to work with the farmers to prevent run-off rather than instituting regulations.
Kessler said the rules will help with long-term improvements at Grand Lake St. Marys.
"We think implemented properly over time they’ll help reduce the nutrient load to the lake," he said.
The agency plans to hire additional staffers to help farmers with the new rules, Kessler said.