Tadd Nicholson (center), with Ohio Corn and Wheat, shared his thoughts with the Task Force, including OSWCC chair Tom Price, (right).

Distressed Watershed Task Force members speak out on the possible designation

On Nov. 1 at 10 a.m. the governor-appointed Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission is again meeting at the Ohio Department of Agriculture to review reports provided by the Distressed Watershed Task Force. The meeting agenda may also include the long-awaited, much-discussed vote on the #WaterDrama18 decision to designate eight Lake Erie sub-watersheds as “Watersheds in Distress.” Or, it may not.

Speculation suggests that, if there is a vote, it will be very close and could go either way. This is supported by the divided nature of the reports submitted by the Task Force members, provided below. In general, all Task Force members acknowledge something needs to be done about water quality in these watersheds with regard to agriculture. The division seems to be about whether the urgency of the problem demands something be done immediately or whether more time should be taken to develop a potentially more effective solution to the problem.

Please stay tuned to ocj.com for live coverage of the meeting that could have tremendous implications for farmers in those watersheds and Ohio agriculture as a whole.

Task Force member include Elizabeth Harsh, Ohio Cattleman’s Association; Jeff Reutter, retired Lake Erie scientist; Nikki Hawk, Ohio Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts Employees; Kris Swartz, Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts; Tadd Nicholson, Corn and Wheat Growers Association; Jessica D’Ambrosio, The Nature Conservancy; Laura Johnson, Heidelberg University, Cathann Kress, Ohio State University College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences. Here are their reports.

 

Elizabeth Harsh, Ohio Cattleman’s Association

My opposition to the watershed in distress designation stems from the unilateral approach used to develop it, in addition to the lack of data to support it. Ohio agriculture is willing to do more however these efforts need to happen in an open and transparent process that is collaborative involving all stakeholders and the General Assembly. It is critically important that the process and the resulting action must be focused on activities that will truly improve water quality in the targeted area.

Ohio’s livestock groups have significant concerns with not only the data used to support the watershed in distress designation, but we also continue to have very serious concerns with the amount of resources, or lack thereof, that would be needed to implement the proposal and the timing to do so. The Grand Lake St. Marys watershed consisted of only 140 farmers and 50,000 acres, where the distressed designation before the commission encompasses approximately 7,000 farmers in nearly 1.8 million acres of crop ground.

The proposed changes to the underlying watershed in distress rules are working their way through the process. A decision on the watershed in distress designation for the eight sub watersheds cannot be made independent of those rule changes. It is important that this subcommittee fully understands what the proposed changes to the rules mean and how it will affect the farmers in these eight sub watersheds as well as the farmers in Grand Lake St. Marys.

For example, what happens if the proposed rule changes are invalidated by JCARR and the Commission approves the Report designating the eight sub watersheds as distressed but under the existing rules? Will it have the desired positive impact to improve water quality, if livestock are a small percentage of the total Phosphorus in the WLEB.

The proposed changes to the watershed in distress rules are contradictory.

Section A says when evaluating a potential designation, the director may consider the 7 factors in Adm Code 901:13-1-20 . . . but then in Section B it reads that prior to proposing to designate a watershed in distress, the director shall prepare and issue a report documenting the factors in the watershed relating to the items in paragraph A of the rule.

Section B makes consideration of the factors mandatory, otherwise why is the director required to prepare and issue a report

If it is discretionary to meet the 7 factors . . . then it is just an arbitrary decision for the distressed designation.

In reviewing the 7 factors and the data in the report it doesn’t appear that any of the 7 factors are met. This point is made clear in comments previously submitted to the subcommittee.

 

Jeff Reutter, retired Lake Erie scientist

Good discussion today at the meeting of the Task Force. I am submitting these comments as requested summarizing the things I said today during the 3rd meeting of the Task Force. These are in addition to the first set of comments I submitted after our 2nd meeting.

I pointed out that the minutes of the 2nd meeting left out four important points I had made.

1. I am concerned about the lack of urgency in our discussions and the comments of most on the Task Force. Based on the human health implications of these blooms and their links, and potential links, to chronic kidney disease, liver cancer, Alzheimer’s, and ALS, we should be moving much more quickly.

2. My discussion of the importance of using Flow Weighted Mean Concentration (FWMC) as targets rather than loads. I covered this well in my first set of comments. The key is that FWMC gives us a way of tracking our progress regardless of the amount of annual precipitation and the corresponding variability in total load. FWMC also varies very little from year to year, so the amount of data we have is clearly sufficient.

3. The fact that from 2015-17 we saw zero change in the number of farmers inserting nutrients and using cover crops—the percentage of farmers adding the practices was equal to the percentage of farmers dropping the practices.

4. My concern that coastal businesses, cities, property owners, etc. are not represented on our Task Force.

I stated that I was pleased with the report we received prior to our meeting entitled, “Distressed Watershed Designation Analysis Selected Western Lake Erie Basin Watersheds,” developed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Division of Soil and Water Conservation, July 19, 2018. However, I did offer one small correction. On page 10 of the report, it states, “These goals for phosphorus loadings to Lake Erie are expected to produce a bloom no greater than those that occurred in 2004 or 2012.” The following should be added to that statement, “ninety percent of the time or nine year out of 10. We expect to see blooms larger than those observed in 2004 or 2012 at least 1 year our of 10.”

I believe our charge as a Task Force is to comment of whether the 8 designated watersheds are in distress. We have spent much of our time worrying about what will happen if they are designated as distressed. There will be a time for that discussion, but this isn’t it. I strongly agree with the final conclusion on page 14 of the report referenced in the above paragraph,

“Based on the above information and analysis, the identified watersheds within the Western Lake Erie Basin watershed are in distress as defined in OAC 901:15-1-20(A).”

I concluded my remarks by providing some back-of-the-envelope calculations to help people understand how significant the load from these eight watersheds is. Using 2008 as the base year for my calculations to match up with Annex 4, the Maumee load of 3,800 MT was approximately 35% of the total load to Lake Erie. The 8 tributaries in question represent about 2/3 of the Maumee load or about 25% of the total Lake Erie load. Lake Erie is the smallest by volume of the Great Lakes—Lake Ontario is 3.5 times larger, Lake Huron is about 7 times larger, Lake Michigan is about 10 times larger, and Lake Superior is about 25 times larger. The phosphorus load from the 8 distressed watersheds is equal to half of the total load that goes into Lake Superior.

 

Nikki Hawk, OASWCDE

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to serve on the OSWCC Watershed in Distress Taskforce. I am truly honored to be a part of such an impressive group of professionals. Chairman Cash charged me with providing an overview of the rules.

I reviewed the differences among current watershed in distress rules, current Senate Bill 1 rules and the proposed distressed designation in the WLEB. What I concluded from this review is that a Distressed

Designation for watersheds within the Western Lake Erie Basin will result in minimal changes to land management in terms of nutrient application. Because Ohio Revised Code 939:08 (Senate Bill 1) outlines the rules related to application of manure in the Western Lake Erie Basin, the Ohio Administrative Code section 901 defining a Watershed in Distress would only require a Nutrient Management Plan in order to spread manure and the requirement to follow NRCS 590 Standard to spread manure.

Given the current rules and laws, this designation will equate to little or no change to the management and application of nutrients in the WLEB; furthermore, the designation of a Distressed Watershed in the Western Lake Erie Basin will not result in any measurable improvement in the quality of water entering Lake Erie. The primary tenants of the current Distressed Watershed Rules are ban dates, no application on frozen or snow covered ground, requirements for setbacks when manure is applied, 120 days of manure storage and the requirement of a current Nutrient Management Plan. ORC 939:08 effectively exempts producers from all of these stipulations except the requirement of a Nutrient Management Plan.

Nonetheless, improvements to water quality can be accomplished through revisions to Senate Bill 1 that will cause real changes to management at the field level. One of the significant changes to Senate Bill 1 revolves around the guidelines that application of nutrients to a growing crop is an acceptable practice. To truly impact water quality, this rule must define a growing cover crop including the percentage of ground cover required.

In addition, the current rules governing Watersheds in Distress in Ohio do not allow surface application of manure given a forecast for significant rainfall nor does it allow for manure application on frozen ground or anytime between December 15th and March 1st_ While these rules which currently only apply to the GLSM Watershed are more restrictive, local producers, Soil & Water professionals, and partners all agree that the ban dates have been a largely positive step to improving water quality. This rule accompanied with the other current Watershed in Distress rules have led to measurable decreases in nutrient losses from agricultural cropland.

In conclusion, there is credible evidence that these eight sub-watersheds meet the definition of a Watershed

in Distress; however, there is NO research supporting the notion that simply requiring a Nutrient Management Plan for Watersheds in Distress will have any measurable impact on water quality in the

Western Lake Erie Basin. The current distressed watershed rules governing nutrient application, storage and management in the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed are more restrictive and have shown to have a positive impact on water quality in a short term study of the affected tributaries. ORC 939:08 will exempt WLEB producers from most of these restrictions.

 

Kris Swartz, OFSWCD

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to provide my comments on behalf of the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts and as a member of the OSWCC taskforce.

As stated in the committee, Ohio’s 88 SWCDs are focused on “resource concerns.” From the beginning of our creation to today — we are focused on “locally led” conservation addressing the needs of the areas we represent.

We are very diverse even in the agricultural areas because of the differences of the land topography, the soils and of the practices utilized. While we are different in many ways, we still agree that water quality and soil health must be main concerns of how we do our jobs each and every day — and we are devoted to those causes.

We understand the need for water quality improvements in the Lake Erie Watershed. However, we are opposed to the Governor’s Executive Order and the plan to implement the 8 watersheds in distress designation offered under the ODA Director’s report. The order and the accompanying report may provide criteria outlining the

challenges, however, both fail to put into effect a comprehensive plan that enables success in the designation’s implementation. We strongly believe, in addition, that it is somewhat reckless of the Commission to approve the “WID” designation without knowing the final rules that will be implemented alongside of this designation. This could turn into a slippery slope which could have damaging implications to not only future actions of the Commission, but also the funding and work carried out by all of Ohio’s 88 county SWCDs. And let’s be honest, if phosphate is the main concern of the watershed – the effort to address water quality in Lake Erie is short-sighted if only focused on portion of the watershed. Let’s consider what is needed to put in place changes that positively impact the entire basin.

As most of you know, the OFSWCD celebrated 75 years this year. So over the year, we have focused on the various functions created to help our districts. When I looked back to review the creation of the Commission – it was created in 1942 for the purpose to ensure that Ohio counties are served by effectively administered, and adequately supported SWCDs. For 76 years, the responsibilities of the Commission have been specific to that mission. These are the following: determine and allocate funds to districts and recommend the levels of funding needed to support SWCD programs; provide assistance to SWCD supervisors on powers and duties, program opportunities, activities of other districts and cooperation between; seek cooperation and assistance of the federal government and its agencies; adopt rules governing the elections; recommend priorities for planning and construction of small watershed projects, and make recommendations concerning coordination of programs as proposed and implemented in agreement with SWCDs; recommend programs and legislation with respect to SWCDs that encourage soil and water and other resource management and promote economic and social development of the state; and to recommend to the director a procedure for coordination of a program of agricultural abatement.

Two of the biggest challenges districts have today involve training and funding. With a reduced federal staff, training for CNMPs and other programs has been more difficult to attain. Additionally, the Technician Development Program through the state was delayed for a few years. While we are back in action now with this Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to provide my comments on behalf of the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts and as a member of the OSWCC taskforce.

As stated in the committee, Ohio’s 88 SWCDs are focused on “resource concerns.” From the beginning of our creation to today – we are focused on “locally led” conservation addressing the needs of the areas we represent.

We are very diverse even in the agricultural areas because of the differences of the land topography, the soils and of the practices utilized. While we are different in many ways, we still agree that water quality and soil health must be main concerns of how we do our jobs each and every day — and we are devoted to those causes.

We understand the need for water quality improvements in the Lake Erie Watershed. However, we are opposed to the Governor’s Executive Order and the plan to implement the 8 watersheds in distress designation offered under the ODA Director’s report. The order and the accompanying report may provide criteria outlining the challenges, however, both fail to put into effect a comprehensive plan that enables success in the designation’s implementation. We strongly believe, in addition, that it is somewhat reckless of the Commission to approve the “WID” designation without knowing the final rules that will be implemented alongside of this designation. This could turn into a slippery slope which could have damaging implications to not only future actions of the Commission, but also the funding and work carried out by all of Ohio’s 88 county SWCDs. And let’s be honest, if phosphate is the main concern of the watershed – the effort to address water quality in Lake Erie is short-sighted if only focused on portion of the watershed. Let’s consider what is needed to put in place changes that positively impact the entire basin.

As most of you know, the OFSWCD celebrated 75 years this year. So over the year, we have focused on the various functions created to help our districts. When I looked back to review the creation of the Commission – it was created in 1942 for the purpose to ensure that Ohio counties are served by effectively administered, and adequately supported SWCDs. For 76 years, the responsibilities of the Commission have been specific to that mission. These are the following: determine and allocate funds to districts and recommend the levels of funding needed to support SWCD programs; provide assistance to SWCD supervisors on powers and duties, program opportunities, activities of other districts and cooperation between; seek cooperation and assistance of the federal government and its agencies; adopt rules governing the elections; recommend priorities for planning and construction of small watershed projects, and make recommendations concerning coordination of programs as proposed and implemented in agreement with SWCDs; recommend programs and legislation with respect to SWCDs that encourage soil and water and other resource management and promote economic and social development of the state; and to recommend to the director a procedure for coordination of a program of agricultural abatement.

Two of the biggest challenges districts have today involve training and funding. With a reduced federal staff, training for CNMPs and other programs has been more difficult to attain. Additionally, the Technician Development Program through the state was delayed for a few years. While we are back in action now with this program, but we are behind. And due to some of financial challenges of districts, we have trained staff only to have the individual qualify for another position elsewhere and leave – forcing us to start all over again.

As most of you know, SWCD funding continues at a low in terms of state match. Total allocation today is at a 67% level. We have had stagnant funding for quite some time even through we’ve asked to be matched 1:1 – which is less than $4 million dollars. Staffing levels continue to fluctuate based on funding challenges and some counties are unable to provide strong funding to the SWCD due to increased mandated programs and the loss of dollars directly related to the LGF from past budgets. While we support Heidelberg Water Quality Lab and the efforts it provides, their funding is earmarked through the State Match and reduces our funding each budget. A few years ago it was $125,000 per year and now it is at $250,000 per year. There have been additional earmarks added to the State Match to address Grand Lake St. Marys’ and other programs. When funding is not increased and earmarks are incorporated – match rate suffers. This has eroded conservation efforts in many areas. While additional funding was provided to address the implementation of SB 1/150, it is still limited.

Federal funding through program implementation helps districts too – but it is still very limited. With the current Farm Bill stalled, further reductions to all programs could be expected. So funding is not guaranteed. Recently, SB 299 was passed that included funding for the SWCDs and possible projects. While this will definitely help, there must be a plan in place to ensure solid, consistent funding throughout the future because water quality efforts will not be done overnight, just as we have experienced in the Grand Lake St. Marys’ watershed, which is comprised of 50,000 acres and has a price tag of well-over $45 million to date.

Ohio’s benefits tremendously from the economic gains resulting from a strong agriculture industry and a healthy environment. And for over 75 years, Ohio’s SWCDs have stepped up and delivered. SWCDs are the critically needed “boots on the ground” to ensure conservation practices get implemented. We deliver approximately 60-70% of the Farm Bill workload in addition to our workload of locally led resource challenges. But as stated before, we are stretched thin. Rather than approve the Watershed in Distress designation, we propose the taskforce continues to move forward with meetings throughout the next two-three months to develop a more comprehensive plan to properly address the needed funding resources, legislative initiatives, training, research and more in order to truly make a difference in this watershed – and throughout Ohio.

OSWCC Water Quality Task Force

1. Develop a short and long-term strategic plan to address the water quality issues throughout Ohio’s

watersheds with the goal of developing a program that could be implemented statewide.

2. Develop and prioritize collaborative actions needed to improve water quality and future decisions.

3. Synthesize existing information, monitor efforts, and identify data gaps.

4. Develop training and outreach efforts designed to ensure a strong, trained workforce is in place to

assist in terms of planning, educating the landowner and more.

5. Develop communication tools for sharing, accessing, and communicating water quality information.

*Break into subgroups to work. Subgroups would consist of 5-6 max. individuals.

Proposed schedule: (can meet in person and/or through conference call, Skype or Webinar Based and as

often as the group deems necessary to complete Targeted tasks by the deadline)

November: Meet and break into designated subgroups to begin planning work.

December: Subgroups meet

January: Subgroups meet

*February: Presentation of Plan and Action Steps

Policy Development and Fiscal Management

–This group will identify areas for legislative/administrative changes improvements; identify, develop and/or

improve funding/financial resources for plan implementation; and ensure action steps are considered for short

and long term success.

Research and Data Assessment

–This group will coordinate on-going research and review current data information to provide guidance that best

determines practices to be used in targeted areas; determine additional research that is necessary; and develop

a coordinated approach to share research and important information

Outreach and Education

–This group will develop a plan of action to reach landowners, absentee landowners, the general public and

more with a goal of educating the importance of nutrient plans, Ag BMPs and more. Included in this effort is

identifying additional partners or more to collaborate to ensure the plan is carried out and provides accountability.

Project Planning and Training

–This group will develop a plan of action for project planning and training needs for the SWCDs, CCAs, 4R

Certified and more who will assist in the development of plans, sharing Ag BMPs and other efforts targeted

throughout the watershed. This includes the development of watershed plans / 9 element plans and more.

 

Tadd Nicholson, Corn and Wheat Growers Association

Thank you for the opportunity to serve on the Soil and Water Commission’s taskforce. And thank you for allowing the farming community to be heard in this process. Below is a summary of my comments and thought for the commission to consider.

Unfortunately, the commission and the state are limited to just one flawed regulatory tool which is the designation of a distressed watershed. This tool is not equipped to deal with any other watershed besides GLSM and we shouldn’t fool ourselves in thinking it can have success in the 8 watersheds in question. No one in these taskforce hearings indicated they believe that Designating the 8 watersheds under current rules would have any measurable improvement at the river monitors.

The commission is further handicapped because you don’t even know what rules would be in place. Without knowing the rules of this designation means the commission would simply be shooting in the dark and is not at all a way to make good policy. The commission should insist on knowing the rules prior to any vote on designating the 8 watersheds.

I’m concerned that may of the stakeholders in this process view getting the 8 watersheds into a distressed designation as success. The commission should insist on working with groups which view getting the 8 out of a distressed state as success. The commission should make no decision until a plan is crafted to set farmers up for success. Today’s plan to force farmers into unknown rules with zero resources allocated and measuring their success at a monitor too far from their farms to control is setting farmers up for certain failure. Many stakeholders offered written comment indicating certain changes they would offer to the executive order. Some indicating a smaller area should be targeted or a different timeframe or ways to gain more consensus before moving forward. But those same groups supported the designation despite all their reservations of the current plan, why? It’s my assumption that they believe if the commission does not vote to designate on Nov 1 that the farmers will breathe a sigh of relief, sit back and do nothing. So, designating now with a plan that has no path to success must be better than nothing. This is not so and anyone who has engaged in dialog with the farming community has been met with a group that acknowledges the problem and acknowledges that we have a roll to play in reducing the load. We do not acknowledge that the plan before the commission will lead to anything positive for the river nutrient loads or the lake blooms. Instead it will divert the attention of the Soil and Water county staff and the farmers to writing nutrient management plans instead of implementing practices that really matter on fields.

If you believe none of the above logic, reason and wiliness to create a better plan by going back to work with all stakeholders can be considered because you are bound by the “scope” of your authority, then you must read and consider the comments submitted by the Ohio Farm Bureau. They clearly indicate that the 7 criteria defining a Watershed in Distress have not been met by any of the 8 watersheds in question.

This is not the way to make good policy. The commission should vote no on the designation if forced to take a vote on Nov. 1. But a better option would be no vote at all and ask the administration to work with the general assembly and all stakeholders to craft a better plan that has a clear path to success for farmers and Lake Erie.

Thank you again for the opportunity to serve and provide input.

 

 

Jessica D’Ambrosio, The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is a non-partisan, science-based organization that seeks to conserve the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together.

We work collaboratively with businesses, farmers, sportsmen groups, government and local communities to develop pragmatic, market-based solutions to conservation challenges, including water quality. More than 65,000 Ohioans are Nature Conservancy supporters.

The Western Lake Erie Basin has greatly benefitted from having multiple and diverse partners willing to come to the table to find ways to agree on what is best for water quality and what is best for agriculture. The executive order targets watersheds with demonstrated high levels of phosphorus and stipulates that nutrient management plans be established for those areas formally designated as “Watersheds in Distress.” The state’s data indicate these eight areas have extremely high levels of phosphorus from both fertilizer run off and soil erosion necessitating rapid action to help achieve the 40% reduction required by the multi-state and provincial Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. Our staff have had the privilege and honor to serve on advisory

committees, be project co-leads, and have been asked to comment on many of the scientific modeling and data collection efforts done in the Western Lake Erie Basin. To that end, we find the data supporting this designation to be credible. Looking at the body of scientific work as a whole, the weight-of-evidence is compelling and leads us to support the designation of these targeted watersheds. We believe this is an important step toward curbing harmful algal blooms that are unsafe to both people and nature.

Thank you for the opportunity to provide summary comments and to serve on the task force. The Nature Conservancy will continue to work with all of the partners in the Western Lake Erie Basin on the next steps in this process.

 

Laura Johnson, Heidelberg University

First, I would like to thank the Chair of this Task Force and OSWCC Vice Chair Cash for inviting me to be part of this group. Below I include my requested comments on the discussion overall and my opinion on the recommendation the Task Force should provide to the OSWCC.

The three findings we were tasked in recommending were:

A. Recommend to the OSWCC to give consent to the Director of ODA in the determination that the Watersheds identified in the report presented to the commission July 19, 2018 and so designed in the Governor’s July 11th 2018 Executive Order.

B. Withhold consent to the Director of ODA in determining the Watersheds identified in the Governor’s Executive Order and recommend that the Commission adopt the Ohio House of Representatives recommended course of action.

C. Suggest to Director of ODA that the scope of the distressed Watershed determination be modified, and that the Governor’s Executive Order be revised, as maybe deemed appropriate after further examination of the identified areas.

Our discussions about whether the watersheds identified in the July 19, 2018 report have generated many concerns but have centered on these few common topics: (1) whether the data provided enough support for such a designation, (2) details in the rule language that would be enacted, (3) resources available to implement the management changes in the distressed watershed rules and if those changes will be effective.

Given my background, I can only really speak to the first topic regarding data. I would like to emphasize that the phosphorus loads from the Maumee River have only varied with river flow over the past 15-20 years and flow-weighted mean concentration (FWMC, calculated as load divided by flow) has varied little. We have yet to detect reductions in phosphorus loads or FWMCs associated with changes on the land since blooms returned in 2003. In fact, we haven’t detected phosphorus reductions for any of the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) rivers since 2003 (Raisin, Tiffin, Trib to Lost Creek, Blanchard, Maumee, Portage, Sandusky, Honey Creek, Rock Creek). I’ll note many of the watersheds suggested to be classified as distressed are not monitored by the National Center for Water Quality Research (NCWQR) at Heidelberg University nor do the data records extend as long, yet the FWMCs are similarly elevated among these watersheds to a level of concern. Hence, I feel that these data support the idea that the watersheds are indeed in distress and given levels we find in the Portage and Sandusky Rivers, that the designations are even conservative in geographic extent.

Furthermore, sophisticated watershed models that estimate the needed coverage and combination of various best management practices (BMPs) indicate that practices such as nutrient management will need to be on a vast majority of acres to reach the target reductions called for to reduce bloom size in western Lake Erie. The comments from NRCS support that there is not enough federal financial assistance available to implement these practices across all of the WLEB acres. Finally, most research on agricultural systems indicate a need for field-to-field, or farm-to-farm scale management, meaning there needs to be direct assistance to farmers to determine which combination of practices will work best for their farm operation. From what I can gather, having a farm-specific nutrient management plan is the first step to farm-specific practice recommendations. We have not heard comments suggesting that all farms should not have nutrient management plans, rather that they can be complicated, long, and tedious.

However, I also empathize with the concerns raised by the agricultural community. Specifically questioning where the resources will come from to implement nutrient management plans over so much acreage. Most local NRCS offices are incredibly busy and often undermanned. Profit margins can be questionable to support such plans without financial assistance, especially for smaller farms. There is finally a wealth of questions over how to interpret the rules, what the final rules will actually be, and how the work will be implemented. I share all of these concerns.

Although there is no real option to encompass my opinion, I do feel that the comments submitted by Gail Hesse with the National Wildlife Federation did a great job outlining a plan to move forward to a consensus-based decision. In those comments, she suggested that we consider a conditional designation until the final rule package has been set. I would agree that a conditional designation is the best option for this Task Force and that part of the conditions are that the Commission is then able to iron out the details identified above that present some substantial heavy lifts to implement the rules as we anticipate that they will be in the final form.

 

Ohio State University College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences report

 

Few issues with data itself, however, two sets of questions/issues are worthy of further discussion and clarity:

• Most questions raised by CFAES tie to application of available data to current conclusions,

actions, potential policies and potential regulations.

• Additional questions raised regarding scope, costs, implementation, BMPs, and relationships of

points along the downstream flow and requests for further clarity of data.

1. What is the rationale for the threshold for determining distressed? EPA appears to have picked

2x the Annex 4 targets with little justification for how that was determined. Is this threshold

consistent with how the threshold for Grand Lake St. Mary’s distressed designation was determined? Is this a level that will be consistently applied in the future?

2. In this report, only one year’s worth of data is being reported. Our understanding from EPA is more than one year’s worth of data is available and there are many sources of data. This data would be useful in understanding the trend line in these watersheds.

3. The report is vague on the subject of how a watershed comes off the distressed list? What metric(s) will be used to monitor progress? Over what length of time does it need to be below the metric(s)?

4. It’s unclear how this particular proposal is part of an overall plan for meeting the 2025 number, and some clarity regarding how this action might fit with the overall plan might be useful. Is this a first step? Are other actions planned? What components of a plan are under consideration?

5. Page 9 Paragraph 7 General – Figure 3 with Dissolved Reactive P by watershed is the heart of this designation discussion. An additional figure of total P is useful to include. This is very valuable data and we see no issues with the data itself but a closer look at the relationships of points along the downstream flow seems critical. CFAES used the data points for Figure 3 that were noted as sample stations number 1-6 in the publication Western Lake Erie Tributary Water Monitoring Summary provided in the documentation for our review. CFAES also added two point A and B which are points at the Indiana state line. These points appear to be noted in the correct locations.

Suggest 1. These maps reproduced with both the concentration and loading number for both DRP and Total P in the callout box for each point would be very useful for an individual to better understand the relationship of one point to another, to identify if assimilation or release of nutrients is occurring in different segments.

The Distressed Watershed Designation will make the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) 590 standards kick in. These standards are currently being revised at the national level and, after the comment period (next month or so), will become law in Ohio in 2-3 years. With this designation, those in the Western Lake Erie Basin will be tied to whatever revisions are being made in the 590 rules and it cannot currently be determined what that will be.

“MemberWorkbook8.30.18”: Comments relative to the following two statements/sections with Director David T. Daniels’ letter (page 26):

a. Statement/Section #3: “Under current law, all Ohio farms are required to follow the

conservation practices found in the relevant U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

“Field Office Technical Guide,” also known as the “590 standards,” developed by USDA’s

Natural Resources Conservation Service. However, standards are enforced differently; either before or after a discharge incident occurs. Farms within watersheds that have been designated as distressed are subject to the enforcement of 590 standards even if they have not experienced a discharge to waters of the state, and farms outside of watersheds that have been designated as distressed are subject to enforcement of 590 standards only if they experience a discharge.”

7. Watersheds identified as distressed for this report were in large part due to sedimentation/siltation and nutrient levels. Sedimentation is a function of soil erosion, a natural process however accelerated erosion from agricultural practices have been shown to contribute greatly to water pollution. The document does little to address development of conservation plans in the distressed watersheds in an effort to reduce sediment loads. Transported soil carries with it attached and/or dissolved plant nutrients which have been shown to contribute to poor water quality. Reduction of soil erosion will reduce sediment loads entering the streams.

There should be a corresponding reduction in particulate phosphorus which comprises the greatest portion of total phosphorus. Note that conservation practices to reduce soil erosion and therefore particulate phosphorus might have minimal impact on dissolved reactive phosphorus.

8. Comments Regarding Attachment D (pg. 3 p. 2): In the sentence “relatively higher concentrations of phosphorus in the surface water.”, the type of P is not identified.

Determination of phosphorus is operationally defined based on the method used to measure the amount, concentration or load. This should clearly say all phosphorus or define the type of phosphorus.

9. “There is evidence that nutrient loads are higher in the southern portion of the watershed.”

Does this refer to all plant nutrients or only to the total phosphorus and dissolved reactive phosphorus reported by the OEPA?

• Two other key points are not stated in 7.A.

o Livestock production in the southern portion of the Maumee watershed is also greater than much of the norther production. Annual animal manure inputs to the system will continually increase the quantity of phosphorus entering the watershed. Application timing and methods that minimize runoff should be encouraged.

o The Auglaize/St. Mary watersheds represent 34% of the Maumee watershed whereas Tiffin/St. Joseph comprise 13% of the Maumee watershed.

o Soils in the southern portions of the watershed have greater distribution of slope steepness ranging from 0.5 to 9% and 0 to 16% for the St. Mary and Auglaize respectively.

o Slope steepness is strongly correlated to soil erosion loss

10. Figure DRP FWMC – this figure is worth reviewing closely

• From this figure, the northern portion is closer to goal than the southern half of the watershed

• Below Defiance meets the goal* (This was reported to be a typo on the map)

• Everything above south and west of Defiance is above compliance goal

How many farms are affected?

Unclear. See information below regarding farm designations per USDA.

It may be more useful to calculate acres included within the proposed designation, it appears that this EO will potentially impact 1.8 million acres (sources: ODA and OEPA).

· Family farms

· Large scale farms

· CAFOs

Note: These breakdowns do not align with USDA categories for farms.

Family farms vs large farms seems to be just a simple breakdown and when using acres as a determinant, notation like that isn’t used because of the variable change. However, when applying gross cash income per acre then size designations like that are used. Gross cash farm income is basically revenue plus direct government payments and other farm related income: tractor rides, trucking and so on.

For instance, a small family farm is designated as anything less than $350,000. A Mid-Sized Family Farm is anything between $350,000- $999,999 and then Large Family Farms are over $1,000,000.

For an example, let’s assume that a farm is 400 acres of corn. Using the USDA estimate of 188 bu./ acre that give us a production of 75,200 bu. Using the daily corn price registered with AMS for Toledo on Friday the 21 of $3.20 per bushel we get cash revenue of $240,640.00

Gross cash revenue also includes direct government payments: ARC, PLC, Marketing Loan Gains, Dairy MPP, Conservation and so on.

Let’s assume that this county was in Henry County and had all acres enrolled in ARC at a payment of $8 per acre. So, $3,200 in government sequestration after a 6.8% sequestration and a benchmark of 86%.

Total Gross Cash Farm Income would be 78,400.00. A farm of 400 acres would be designated as a small family farm. However, if we were talking prices in 2013 where corn was $6.70 a bushel and government payments were $46 per acre now we have Gross Cash Revenue of $522,240 and this same farm would be a Mid-Sized Family Farm. What will be needed to manage nutrient sources?

· Granular fertilizer

· Manure

· Till versus no-till or conservation till

Identification of alternative proposals for achieving the requisite nutrient reductions (What will be needed to manage nutrients?) including traditional command-and-control approaches (nutrient management plans) and modern economic approaches (incentive-based contracts). Assessment of the costs and incidence of those costs of achieving the requisite reduction? This assessment should include:

i. What is the cost (per acre) of achieving the requisite reduction?

ii. Who bears the burden of the costs under alternative proposals?

iii. What administrative costs are associated with each alternative proposal?

iv. What role do legacy nutrients play in the design of efficient policy? Can the policies be made flexible to allow for adjustments over time as legacy nutrients are removed (used) from the soil?

What work will be needed?

· Landowner responsibility vs Agency responsibility

· Management Plans

· Monitoring

· Enforcement

· Other?

Using the model, we assessed the costs of the proposals for meeting the 40% nutrient reduction target proposed in Scavia et al. (2017). That study looked at various combinations of the practices listed above. Our cost estimates are lost farmer profit, which is a combination of the effects of higher costs due to the practices (installation costs, annual costs, etc.) and lower profits due to yield losses. The lowest cost option amongst those examined in Scavia et al. (2017) was to implement subsurface nutrient placement across 100% of the basin. This would cost farmers $13 per acre per year if implemented over the next 10 years, or $47 million per year in the Maumee river basin. The second lowest cost alternative was to implement subsurface nutrient placement on 100% of acres, and to reduce nutrient inputs by 50%. This would cost $14 per acre per year, or $49 million per year. A combination of cover crops, riparian areas, and subsurface placement on 50% of the acres, but without a nutrient reduction would cost $20 per acre per year, or $71 million per year, and would not achieve the 40% reduction target.

Finally removing land from production would be extremely costly, although it would work.

At first review, the set of Task Group Questions provided (TFH: p 5) appear to focus on the development of command-and-control-type management plans; that is prescriptive plans focused on nutrient management plans monitoring and enforcement, rather than development of policies and procedures focused on achieving the desired outcomes at least cost to those involved. Recent research has shown that there is wide variation in the cost of achieving a fixed reduction in nutrients in the WELB watershed depending on the method/policy for reduction. In recent conversations around these issues, Dr. Brent Sohngen provided an overview of the recent research on the cost of various means/policies to achieve a 40% reduction in phosphorous in the WELB (Dr. Sohngen’s comments are included below for your reference). The upshot of that research is that traditional command and control strategies for nutrient management—land use restrictions, best management practices, etc.—are significantly more costly to farmers and taxpayers and significantly less effective in achieving nutrient reductions than economic incentives.

BMPs recommended:

• Mirroring monitoring with implementation of BMPs – could be promising

• Target in smaller watersheds (Robyn Wilson’s research on compliance suggests this may result in greater implementation of practices among farmers)

• Best to keep in mind that we are limited by data we don’t have – on variables we don’t have –soil test P- varies within fields, for example.

• Placement of nutrients very important management practice organic & inorganic

• With any regulations or policies, it is wise to consider unintended consequences (such as winter windows for manure application)

Who will do the work?

· Ohio Department of Agriculture

· Soil and Water Conservation Districts

· NRCS

Note: We highly recommend the engagement of CFAES and in particular, OSU Extension.

How much time will be needed for compliance?

It is too early to tell how quickly acres that fall within a distressed HUC will respond. If elevated nutrient inputs into a stream reach are associated with current nutrient application rates the time to remedy might be relatively quick. However, if the nutrient input within a HUC is primarily associated with past nutrient application (legacy build-up), the response to BMP placement/implementation may be very slow.

What funding will be needed?

Too early to tell and insufficient data to render an accurate opinion. While one could extrapolate from the efforts at Grand Lake St. Mary’s, given the variables- that may not yield an accurate estimate. Taking on eight watersheds with this much acreage and as many variables impacting the practices and outcomes may potentially reduce overall success even with sufficient resources.

Targeting small Hydrologic Unit Codes (HUCs): (1) would allow greater ease and speed to generate and implement requested NMPs, (2) would allow to ensure funds identified in SB299 would be able to cover a larger portion of acres within targeted watershed, and (3) would more likely show that efforts being implemented can be detected at existing tributary monitoring stations.

i.               The following small HUCs might be ideal testbeds for efforts suggested within EO: (1) Little Flatrock Creek, (2) Eagle Creek, (3) Platter Creek

ii.               

What funding sources are available?

With insufficient parameters, CFAES is unable to determine all potential funding sources at this time.

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