COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio EPA’s decision to list the open waters of Lake Erie as impaired will have no immediate impact on farmers or the lake’s water quality, according to the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.
“Our biggest worry is that the public may get the impression that this is the silver bullet that will eliminate harmful algal blooms. It won’t,” said Adam Sharp, executive vice president of Ohio Farm Bureau.
The professional consensus is that the designation in and of itself means little. It does not create mandatory actions, nor does it provide federal money. It excludes Canada’s role in protecting the lake. It also will create a long and complicated bureaucratic process that may impede current progress on reducing harmful algal blooms.
Farm Bureau’s analysis suggests the regulatory and legal process could take 5 to 7 years before actual nutrient reduction steps would be taken. Further, uncertainty over what actions might be required in the distant future may cause municipalities, farmers and others in the regulated community to question their current efforts to improve water quality.
“It’s hard to reach the goal line when no one can explain the rules or even tell you where the goal line is,” Sharp said.
Farm Bureau has never opposed the designation, but the organization has promoted the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement as a preferable plan for improving water quality. This agreement maps out specific targets and strategies to attain a 40 percent reduction in phosphorus loading into the lake by 2025. It was signed by the United States and Canada, and Ohio is already implementing its portion of the agreement.
Additionally, multiple federal and Ohio laws regulate farming practices to reduce nutrient runoff from farm fields. Along with compliance with these regulations, farmers are taking many voluntary steps to protect water. Farm organizations have invested millions of dollars into research that identifies farming practices that are environmentally friendly. The most recent is a collaboration between Farm Bureau, Ohio Certified Crop Advisors, Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Ohio State University Extension and eight other farm organizations to provide farmers with formal Nutrient Management Plans that spell out specific steps to lessen nutrient runoff.
“While we remain unconvinced that the impairment designation was necessary, we will make sure that farmers’ voices are heard throughout the process. More importantly, we’ll continue to work with our farmers to find solutions that are beneficial to both Lake Erie and Ohio’s farm community. We firmly believe that productive farming and clean water are not mutually exclusive,” Sharp said.
— Ohio Farm Bureau Federation