Lake Erie

Soil and Water Commission tasked with a vote on watershed designations

By Ty Higgins, Ohio Ag Net

At a meeting of the Ohio Soil and Water Commission on Oct. 25 at the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), members of the Distressed Watershed Task Force were asked to give their thoughts on the prospect of designating eight watersheds in Northwest Ohio as distressed.

After traveling to locations that have been affected by water quality issues and learning about some of the ideas and practices being thought of and utilized to address the problem, Task Force participants were the only ones asked to speak at the most recent Commission meeting. Once they all had the opportunity to share their views, they were asked to submit a 3-page report within days to Task Force Chairman Fred Cash and Cathann Kress, dean of the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“I suspect there is going to be a decision asked for at a meeting on Nov. 1,” said Kris Swartz, who represents the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts on the Task Force and sits on the Commission as an ex-officio, non-voting member. “I think it is likely, with the representation they have on the commission right now, that they will say ‘yes’ to a distressed designation.”

Swartz takes some exception to that conclusion because some “distressed watershed” rules are currently in flux.

“The rules have already changed several times in this process and they are going through the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) in another month,” Swartz said. “The legislators have made no secret that they are going to really do some serious editing to them and they will be changing before they reach the fields.”

Swartz hopes the Task Force acknowledges that there are issues in the watersheds currently under scrutiny, but also thinks the efforts needs to take a step back to try to formulate a better plan to improve water quality.

As for the feel of the room at ODA in the post Director Daniels era, Swartz says he noticed a different vibe.

“The atmosphere was significantly different this time,” Swartz said. “Director Daniels made the agency a pretty energetic and very happy place to be. With several people fired recently, there was a lot more tension in the room today. I’ll put it this way, it was just really different.”

The Ohio Soil and Water Commission is now slated to meet on Nov. 1 and although a vote is not certain, it is certainly possible.

“I think the Commission is feeling a lot of pressure,” Swartz said. “I’m sure the Governor’s office has been in contact with several of them, knowing which way they want them to vote. I just don’t think a ‘yes’ vote is a very wise move because there won’t be an effective change and there is a better plan. We all know in agriculture that we have to do better, but I think imposing a distressed designation on those watersheds right now is not the right thing to do.”

Ohio Farm Bureau, though not directly represented on the Task Force, did dig into the report and submitted comments expressing significant concerns with the potential Watersheds in Distress designation. Maybe most notably, the lack of financial feasibility of the Watersheds in Distress designation should be carefully considered, according to Farm Bureau.

From Ohio Farm Bureau’s comments:

“Regarding the resources needed, the state is in no way prepared to implement this designation on such a large scale. This is not Grand Lake St. Marys. We are not dealing with 140 farmers in a 50,000 acre watershed but approximately 7,000 farmers in nearly 1.5 million acres of crop ground. It took two years and the addition of 21 United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (“NRCS”) staffers to write and approve comprehensive nutrient management plans (“CNMPs”) for 140 farmers at the cost of millions of dollars. In speaking with officials from NRCS, they estimate a need of 2,100 staff members at a cost of at least $1.8 billion to accomplish the same efforts they undertook in the Grand Lake watershed.

“According to NRCS, which largely bears the brunt of the services needed to develop these plans, the farmer’s cost to develop a CNMP is on average $8,195 ($55/hour for an average 149 hours of development). The cost for a simple nutrient management plan (“NMP”) alone can be nearly $3,000. Farmers will also be required to complete soil sampling, at the cost of $30 per individual sample, or $8 per sample for grid or zone soil sampling. This is not a one-time cost, but a cost that must be incurred every three years under these regulations. Considering there are approximately 1.5 million acres of farmland in the proposed watersheds, and precision nutrient management plans require a sampling rate of 1 sample per 6 to 12 acres (or less), the farmers in proposed watersheds will incur between $1 and $2 million in soil sampling costs every three years.”

In addition, Farm Bureau pointed out a number of issues with the report as it relates to the seven factors in Ohio Adm. Code 901:13-1-20 the ODA director must consider when proposing to designate a watershed to be in distress. Farm Bureau created this chart highlighting the lack of supporting evidence for the seven factors in three of the eight watersheds being considered for the distressed designation.

Watershed in Distress – Designation Criteria Assessment*

Bold text indicates available information is sufficient to meet the specific designation factor.

WID Criteria 

Lower Eagle Creek

04100008 03 02

Platter Creek

04100005 02 06

Little Flatrock Creek

04100007 12 07

The watershed is listed as impaired by nutrients and/or sediment from agricultural sources as determined by the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency.Ammonia (total), low flow alterations, phosphorus (total), organic enrichment (sewage) biological indicators, nitrate/nitrite, direct habitat alterations


municipal point source discharges, crop production, channelization

Sediment, flow modification & Nutrients


Channelization, crop production, sewage (HSTS) & manure

Habitat alterations, flow alteration & sediment


Crop production & agriculture

The watershed or a portion of the watershed exhibits conditions that are a threat to public health based on information provided by the Ohio Department of Health or local health district. 

No information provided indicating threat to human health in this HUC

No information provided indicating threat to human health in this HUCNo information provided indicating threat to human health in this HUC
Streams, lakes or other waterbodies within the watershed exhibit periodic evidence of algal and/or cyanobacterial blooms capable of producing toxins that are harmful to humans, domestic animals or wildlife. 



No information provided for waterbodies in this HUC

No information provided for waterbodies in this HUCNo information provided for waterbodies in this HUC
There is a threat to or presence of contaminants in public or private water supplies.No waters utilized for public water supply in this HUCNo waters utilized for public water supply in this HUCNo waters utilized for public water supply in this HUC
There is a threat to or a presence of contaminants in a primary contact recreational water or bathing water as designated in OAC 3745-1. 

Bacteria (historical data)


No current Ecoli sampling data available

Bacteria (historical data)


No current Ecoli sampling data available

Bacteria (historical data)


No current Ecoli sampling data available

Other unacceptable nuisance conditions exist including the depletion of dissolved oxygen in water that results in impacts to aquatic life. 


Hancock County had no reported fish/wild animals killed

Defiance County 2018 one Ag Pollution investigation with no fish kill/wild animals killedPaulding County 2015, 2017 & 2018 five Ag Pollution investigations two had fish kill/wild animals killed
Analysis of other situations as determined by the director upon consultation with other federal, state and local agencies. 


No specific information provided for this HUC

No specific information provided for this HUCNo specific information provided for this HUC


This assessment is based upon review of the information in the Ohio EPA 2018 Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report and the Distressed Watershed Designation Analysis document developed by the Ohio Department of Agriculture dated July 19, 2018.


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