Peter Yoder talks with Lake Choctaw residents on a recent water quality tour of his farm

Water quality is not only a big issue for big lakes

Many conversations about water quality in Ohio will include Lake Erie and Grand Lake St. Marys, but a recent water quality tour in Madison County proved that the issue of water quality is big, no matter the size of the lake.

Recently, some of the 1,500 residents of Choctaw Lake, a half-square mile body of water near London, Ohio, took part in a morning tour to meet local farmers, visit their operations and find out what practices they have in place to protect the Choctaw Lake watershed.

“The residents here are very understanding that the issue of water quality doesn’t just come down to agriculture,” said Steve Berk, Organization Director for the Madison County Farm Bureau, who sponsored the tour in partnership with Madison County Soil and Water. “They realize that some of the causes for what has been happening here the last few years are a result of farming, as well as lawn fertilizer applications, disposal of lawn trash into the lake and other variables and they are willing to learn about all of those aspects and their effects on water quality and work to turn things around here.”

Educating those outside of agriculture is a key element to solving water quality issues. That is why Ohio Farm Bureau hosts reach out events like the Choctaw Lake Water Tour. Getting an understanding of the thoughts and concerns of those like Choctaw Lake residents will help OFBF better address to their members about some of the best practices farmers are utilizing to care for the state’s water.

This particular tour paid visits to two Madison County farms, Wilt Farms and Yoder Farms, both in the Choctaw Lake Water Shed. At those stops, residents got a firsthand look at some of the tools farmers are using to protect the soil and the water, including GPS and other precision agriculture technology. Dennis Wilt and Peter Yoder answered some great questions about how and when they apply nutrients to their fields and explained to participants that it is best for the farmer, economically, to apply only the nutrients that the soils need and described the technology in place, such as field prescriptions, to make that possible.

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Dennis Wilt shows residents of Lake Choctaw around his farm as they learn about what farmers are doing to protect the quality of the soil and the water in Madison County

“My hope is that the residents realize after taking this tour that farmers are working very hard to be part of the solution and correcting our water quality problems,” Berk said. “I think they will be surprised about all of the technological advancements in the ag industry that are helping farmers be very progressive and proactive. Every day, farmers are getting better and better about understanding nutrient management and how it relates to water quality.”

Choctaw Lake residents have been quite proactive as well. In fact, since 2011 residents have voluntarily taken water samples and from early on noticed some levels that put up a red flag.

“For the first time, in 2012, we did identify some hazardous algae in the lake and those levels increased in 2013 and 2014,” said Jim Swihart, chairman of the Choctaw Lake Water Quality Committee. “Thanks to some help from Ohio Farm Bureau and The Ohio State University, we were able to take more comprehensive samples of our water and acquired some satellite images to verify phosphorous content.”

Putting all of that data together gave the residents of Choctaw Lake a better handle on what they have in their watershed and their lake. The hard work was to find out what needed to be done about the quality of their water.

“We started our focus in our own community and step No. 1 of a five-part plan was to fix our own back yard,” Swihart said. “That entailed forming 14 rules and regulations for our community to address lake water quality, including nutrient reduction, prohibiting phosphorous fertilizers on the lawns, soil and erosion control, keeping undesirable materials like leaves and grass clipping out of the lake and also the removal of unwanted species from the area.”

Property owners have also financed dredging equipment to be used across the lake to remove some of the bottom sediment from the lake this spring. A newsletter was also sent out to every land owner of 20 acres or more across the watershed to help to build solid relationships with neighbors that effect what ends up in Choctaw Lake downstream.

“Some of our residents have had some preconceived notions the lake’s issues are all coming in from the farms,” Swihart said. “Residents are seeing today that farming isn’t what it used to be. This is farm science and a very high precision operation these days and farmers pay good money for their soil and their fertilizer and they are doing the best they can every day to keep nutrients on the fields. I think residents realize we are all on the same side of the water quality conversation and trying to find the solution.”

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