Lake Erie

Toledo’s water crisis again makes agriculture a target

Early Monday, Ohio EPA officials worked with city officials to analyze the results of tests the city ran overnight and agreed with the conclusion that Toledo’s water is safe to drink.

“The people of Toledo came together unselfishly to support one another over the past two days and are great examples of the Ohio spirit,” said Ohio Governor John Kasich. “My compliments also go to Mayor Collins and his team. They served their city well and we will continue to work with them closely and support them going forward. My hat is also off to all who worked around the clock to distribute water and other essentials. They made a big difference. Over the past two days we’ve been reminded of the importance of our crown jewel, Lake Erie, to our everyday lives. We must remain vigilant in our ongoing efforts to protect it.”

This crisis, which stems from an algal bloom affecting the water supply of almost half of a million people, has put a target, once again, on Ohio agriculture.

“Everybody should appreciate what a terrible situation Toledo has been put through,” said Paul Herringshaw, a Wood County farmer who farms 1,500 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat just southwest of Bowling Green. “I think we all realize how important good, clean water is to everyone. The implications and the effects of this issue will be far reaching.”

Not so far reaching is the blame for the formation of algal blooms, which is the result of a high amount of nutrients, particularly phosphates, in the Lake. Some are quick to point to nutrient runoff from farming practices and the lack of an effort to find a solution to the problem as reasons for additional phosphates in the Lake Erie Watershed.

“In reality, farmers have been proactive in this situation,” Herringshaw said. “Dating all the way back to 1980, the farming community has put forth a lot of effort and has implemented many voluntary practices that have helped us use less nutrients now than we were 30 years ago.”

Herringshaw also cites minimum-till and no-till farming strategies that help keep soil in place as a way to reduce nutrients being sent to Lake Erie.

“Agriculture has been more proactive when it comes to the water quality of Lake Erie than any other entity involved in the issue,” Herringshaw said. “For instance, the farming community recently came up with $1million that was matched by a $1million USDA grant, which is being used to conduct ‘edge-of-the-field’ research. This data is collected by The Ohio State University to measure what affects certain practices have on certain soils and how that impacts the amount of nutrients running off into Ohio streams. No other agency can say that they are taking on that type of initiative to get a handle of what is truly happening with the state’s water quality.”

Along with on-farm research, other avenues of progress are being taken to help Ohio agriculture work towards better nutrient management techniques, including the recent passage of Senate Bill 150. SB 150 will require some changes for farms with regard to nutrient management. With this new law, if a farmer applies fertilizer on more than 50 acres, they, or the person applying the fertilizer, will have to be certified. After finalizing the rules on certification, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) will begin offering certification classes. ODA is working with OSU Extension to offer the training.

“The passage of SB 150 means that every farmer will have an opportunity for the education of 4R nutrient stewardship, which deals with the right time, the right place, the right form and the right amount of nutrients to use on their operation,” said Larry Antosch, Ohio Farm Bureau senior director of policy development and environmental policy. “There is also the ability in the legislation that if a farmer is deemed not to be following the rules and operating in a reckless manner, the Director of ODA can suspend that certification.”

Antosch and his organization are also part of a new coalition called Healthy Water Ohio, a diverse partnership of stakeholders from conservation, business and industry, universities, water suppliers, agriculture and others who will lead the development of a 20- to 30-year management strategy to address water issues for Ohio.

“We know that Ohio is blessed with very abundant surface and ground waters and there was a need to pull together all aspects of water users, from recreation to lawn and horticulture, municipal water supplies, food processing and farming,” Antosch said. “The goal is for all of the interested parties to sit down and develop a long-range strategy to decide what we need to do as a state to maintain the high quality, abundant resources of water that we enjoy.”

Antosch anticipates that this group will have designed a series of recommendations in one year, that will be able to move the conversation forward as to what needs to be done, and who needs to do it to protect water quality from Lake Erie to the Ohio River.

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