Bob Scott sits in his truck above the Little Darby Creek, which flows through his Union County Farm.

Farmers engage on water issues

Buckeye Farm News

For 66 years, farmer Bob Scott has lived in the Big Darby watershed, which has long been prized for its ecological health. He says farmers in the area are very conscious about conservation and the environment.

As he puts it, “soil is our livelihood.”

But farmers had concerns when the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began developing guidelines for some of the ditches and streams that eventually flow into the Big Darby Creek.

Regulations stemming from the Clean Water Act required the Ohio EPA to evaluate aquatic life such as fish and bugs in certain streams.

Farmers worried that manmade maintained ditches and streams that dry up in the summer would not be able to meet the requirements for supporting aquatic life.

“Would they point the finger at agriculture when it’s really Mother Nature’s fault?” Scott asked, wondering if this would open the door to more regulation.

However, Scott and others didn’t just sit back and complain; they worked together to share their concerns with Ohio EPA.  In fact, a joint board of Soil and Water Conservation District supervisors had been formed to address water quality concerns, and a planning team of volunteer landowners also provided input on proposals.

Scott even went out with his video camera to document streams that would dry up in the August heat.

“(Local landowners) were very active in understanding what we were doing and providing comments,” said Dan Dudley, an Ohio EPA manager.

The conversations also helped open the door to take a look at some of the broader issues surrounding agricultural drainage, said Larry Antosch, Ohio Farm Bureau’s senior director of program innovation and environmental policy.

“As discussions have been going on for so long with this watershed, agriculture has been able sit down with the regulators at Ohio EPA, raise some of the issues and create a good dialogue.  We maybe don’t agree all the time. But in this case the Ohio EPA did make some adjustments,” he said.

The Ohio EPA said it has made dozens of changes to stream classifications, many coming from the concerns raised by landowners in the Big Darby watershed.

State environmental officials said it can be difficult to reach out to farmers on an individual basis, so having local advocates, such as the county Farm Bureau, who can bring forward the concerns of the community, is important.

“We’re not interested in regulating farmers; we’re interested in water quality,” emphasized the Ohio EPA’s Erin Sherer, noting that farmers also want a healthy watershed.

Scott said the experience has driven home how farmers need to become involved in the regulatory process.

“It really shows that the public can do something when they pull together, and likewise, it showed that the Ohio EPA was willing to listen,” he said.

OFBF supports landowners who say property is taken by flooding

Ohio Farm Bureau has filed a brief with the Ohio Supreme Court in support of landowners who say they are subject to repeated flooding due to discharges from a western Ohio Lake.

Landowners downstream from Grand Lake St. Mary’s say they’ve experienced damage to their property after a spillway was expanded to release additional water from the more than 13,000-acre manmade lake.

OFBF said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which manages the lake, has essentially taken more than 2,500 acres of land from property owners by flooding it as the agency deems necessary.

OFBF told the court that ODNR should compensate the landowners, “which will further the larger public good of protecting private property rights.”

“Farmers and other landowners should not have to endure burdensome (litigation) to force a state entity like ODNR to be accountable for its conduct, to fulfill its public duty and honor private property owners’ Constitutional rights,” OFBF said in the brief.

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