Regulators are planning to continue to work with farmers following the release of new rules resulting from pollution concerns in the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed.
The rules allow the state to designate “watersheds in distress” based on factors such as nutrient impairments, threats to public health, toxic algal blooms and impacts on aquatic life.
Once a watershed receives the “watersheds in distress” designation it triggers restrictions on the winter application of manure and a requirement for farmers to develop and implement nutrient management plans.
Rob Hamilton of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Soil and Water Resources told attendees of the Ohio Livestock Coalition’s annual meeting that the state wants to keep a positive relationship with farmers by using guiding principles as it applies the rules. Among them are keeping in mind the concerns of landowners and using regulation as a “backstop” after first giving farmers a chance to comply.
“We have a lot of respect for landowners and private property out there and we hope that will continue,” he said.
Hamilton said of the 300 livestock farms in the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed, close to 60 percent are covered by a nutrient management plan or in the process of obtaining one. The same holds true for 70 percent of the cropland.
Hamilton also said that complaints about farmers applying nutrients this past winter fell dramatically from previous years. However, Hamilton said he is concerned that some farms need more cropland than they have to apply manure. Grand Lake St. Marys was among a number of lakes throughout Ohio that had health advisories issued last summer due to blooms of toxic algae. While the algal blooms are fed by nutrients found in farm run-off and other natural sources, it is believed that a wet spring followed by a hot dry summer may have exacerbated the problem.