The algae bloom outbreak at Grand Lake St. Marys in 2010 that has made the lake and its watershed a poster child for water-quality issues statewide is also the launching point for a series of tightened regulations now facing farmers and livestock producers in the area.
State and local officials were on hand Monday at American Legion Post 571 to discuss myriad rules and requirements that affect the producers inside the distressed watershed.
“The primary purpose of this meeting is to provide more information about the agricultural pollution abatement rules that pertain to the watershed, especially the watershed in distress status that applies some additional rules on top of what the rest of Ohio already abides by,” said John Kaiser, resource management specialist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Soil and Water Resources. “What we hope happens here is that producers get a better understanding of the rules and are able to ask questions and get some answers.”
Officials at ODNR implemented the watershed in distress designation — the first such distinction in the state — in January 2011, Kaiser said. The designation initiated a countdown to when a number of enhanced regulations would go into effect.
One of the key components of the designation is a ban on the winter application of manure to fields in the watershed. That provision kicks in Jan. 19 and prohibits manure application from Dec. 15 to March 1. The designation also means producers are required to file nutrient management plans and keep detailed records about manure nutrient applications, weather forecasts, manure and soil analyses, and manure storage volumes.
“It means there is a very strong emphasis on water quality,” Kaiser said. “The most important thing is for producers to keep their nutrients on the farm. Some of these rules that have been put in place just for that reason.”
Kaiser and Kirk Hines, an administrator in ODNR's Division of Soil and Water Resources, both acknowledged that farmers and producers have been working hard to help address the nutrient loading processes that have negatively affected the lake through the years, including providing large amounts of phosphorus — a key food source for the algae.
“We realize that what we're asking you to do is over and above the rest of the state,” Hines said. “Think forward. Think about what you're doing. Collectively, we really do think we can make a difference.”
Kaiser said state officials are also optimistic that plans announced earlier this month by Wisconsin-based Amiran Technologies to build a facility to turn manure into dry fertilizer to be shipped out of the watershed will help.
“I think they're going to help,” Kaiser said.