Late last year there was a hard push to pass House Bill 490 to address water quality in Lake Erie. The Ohio Senate resumed work on this effort right out of the gate in 2015 with Senate Bill 1, which passed the Senate unanimously on Feb. 18.
“Legislators have included agriculture in discussions from the beginning and this bill represents a science-based approach to tackling some of the challenges we face in maintaining clean waterways for all Ohioans,” said Tommie Price, Ohio Soybean Association (OSA) president. “Ohio soybean farmers share their neighbors’ concern about water quality in Ohio and are committed to doing their part to find solutions that work. As water quality has been and will continue to be a priority for the OSA, our organization appreciates the due diligence that the Ohio Senate has done in drafting substitute Senate Bill 1.”
SB 1 would prohibit the spreading of manure or fertilizer in the Lake Erie Watershed when fields are frozen, snow-covered or saturated, or if there is a greater than 50% chance for at least an inch of rain in the next 12 hours. There are exemptions in place if the fertilizer or manure is incorporated within 48 hours or injected.
This prohibition would end after five years unless agriculture committees in the House and Senate jointly recommend continuing them, though some speculate that this measure is unlikely to make a final version of the bill. In addition, SB requires phosphorus monitoring at water treatment plants, updates sewer rules, and bans open-lake disposal of dredged material from ports and harbors in Lake Erie. Senators Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, and Bob Peterson, R-Sabina sponsored the bill.
“Certainly there are many factors that impact our water and it is sensible policy to take a closer look at areas like our water treatment plants and the dumping of dredge material into Lake Erie as is done in Senate Bill 1,” said Chad Kemp, Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association president. “The OCWGA applauds the Senate for taking a more comprehensive approach to looking at the issues affecting our water quality and for working to improve Senate Bill 1 based on input from Ohio’s farmers and taking a close look at the science.”
Adam Ward with the OSA said that the process of the bill was quick, but inclusive, and that the Senate really listened to feedback from agriculture.
“As it started out, some of the agronomic principles included in the fertilizer provisions were things we thought could be improved upon and they were,” Ward said. “We thank the Senate for working with us on those things. Any time you are adding regulations on farmers it is a concern, but at the same time, we want to be part of the solution. We know that agriculture plays some role in the problems up at the Lake.”
Numerous Ohio agricultural groups testified on the bill, including the Ohio Farm Bureau that emphasized: “clean water cannot come at the expense of food production nor can farming trump the need for clean water.”
In addition to the work in the Senate, the Ohio House has also been progressing on water quality legislation with HB 61.
“The work in the House is still ongoing. We are engaged daily with members of the House. We are talking with them about some changes that need to be made, very similar to how the changes on the Senate side started,” Ward said. “We believe any time something agronomic is put into statute, it should be up for review. This industry changes very quickly as new techniques and equipment are developed to help deal with the problems we face out in the fields. If this is going to be a statute, it needs to be flexible enough to be changed quickly. Also, HB 61 does not include a transfer of the Agriculture Pollution Abatement Program from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which we believe is necessary to streamline agricultural regulation and provide some consistency in working with the state government.”