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Healthy Water Ohio Initiative
By Amy Beth Graves
Working together to preserve Ohio’s water resources Lake Erie algae threatens Ohio drinking water
Report: Muskingum Watershed 4th most polluted in U.S. State issues toxic algae warnings at East Fork Lake
Swim at your own risk with E. coli counts high Smarter farming, cleaner water
The headlines above illustrate why Ohio Farm Bureau has made examining the state’s water quality and quantity a priority. On July 7, OFBF helped launch the Healthy Water Ohio (HwO) initiative. A diverse group of stakeholders from conservation, business and industry, universities, water suppliers, agriculture and others are working together to develop a 20- to 30-year comprehensive sustainable water resources management plan.
“Ohioans use 11 billion gallons of water each day. We know there are challenges. Broad challenges require a broad coalition,” said Ohio Farm Bureau President Steve Hirsch during a news conference announcing the formation of Healthy Water Ohio.
During the hour-long media event, Hirsch discussed the initiative along with Larry Fletcher, executive director of Lake Erie Shores & Islands; John Stark, freshwater director for The Nature Conservancy; and Larry Antosch, senior director of environmental policy for Ohio Farm Bureau and technical adviser for HwO. Almost 30 reporters participated in the HwO launch and numerous stories appeared in large and small Ohio newspapers, a national agribusiness newspaper and on various radio networks. The initiative also was the subject of a Town Hall Ohio radio show.
OFBF has been working on HwO since November 2013 and helped set up its framework by putting together a 16-member steering committee that will guide Healthy Water Ohio’s activities. More than 30 stakeholder groups are working together to study specific water-related issues in areas such as recreation, wildlife, public water supply, industry, agriculture, infrastructure and economy. The goal is to identify the influences on water resources and explore economic, social and environmental opportunities. The working group’s findings will be reported to the steering committee with a final report and action items to be released summer 2015.
The challenge is how to maintain the quality and quantity of the state’s water for the long term. Increasingly Ohio’s water resources are coming under pressure because of an expanding population, growing water-dependent industries, increasing urban and rural development and changing climate patterns.
Ohio Farm Bureau has been actively involved in trying to find ways to protect one of Ohio’s greatest resources. OFBF and other agricultural groups have invested more than $1 million for on-farm, edge-of-field testing as experts look for ways to reduce nutrient runoff. Farmers across the state have been trying to reduce the amount of phosphorus runoff by practicing 4-R Nutrient Stewardship: choosing the right nutrient source to apply at the right rate in the right place at the right time.
“We all need to get along and put politics aside so we can get a process that will allow us to keep Ohio’s waters clean but not have a negative effect on the economy,” said Jack Williams, municipal director of the village of Ottawa and a HwO steering committee member.
More work to be done
At press time, the city of Toledo was recovering from the loss of drinking water due to the presence of toxins from the algal bloom in Lake Erie. The harmful algal bloom issue is complex, and many groups and institutions are working to understand all of the factors involved. The agriculture community has cooperated with every effort it has been asked to participate in and will continue to do so. Looking forward, we know that the citizens of Ohio want to be assured that Ohio agriculture is prepared to do even more to get this problem solved. We also know we need an “all hands on deck” approach because there are so many factors contributing to this statewide problem. That’s why Healthy Water Ohio was launched.
Members of the Healthy Water Ohio steering committee:
Business and Industry:
Anheuser-Busch, Ohio AgriBusiness Association
Conservation and Environmental Advocacy:
Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, Ohio League of Conservation Voters, The Nature Conservancy
Farm Credit Mid-America
Food and Farming:
Ohio Cattlemen’s Association, Ohio Corn Marketing Program, Ohio Dairy Producers Association, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Ohio Soybean Council
Lawn, Horticultural, Turf:
Municipal Water Systems:
Village of Ottawa
Association of Ohio Health Commissioners
Recreation and Tourism:
Lake Erie Shores & Islands
Research, Education and Outreach:
Ohio State University
Read the September/October Our Ohio article about the Healthy Water Ohio initiative.