Healthy Water Ohio

Water. It’s one of Ohio’s greatest resources, and one we can’t take for granted. The importance of protecting this resource was apparent when Toledo residents were without drinking water for two days in early August due to toxins from an algal bloom on Lake Erie.

In all, Ohioans consume more than 11 billion gallons of water daily for personal and business use and enjoy more than 60,000 miles of rivers and streams and 125,000 lakes, reservoirs and ponds. The goal is to ensure our water supply is abundant and clean.

In November 2013, Ohio Farm Bureau started work on the Healthy Water Ohio initiative. A diverse group of stakeholders from conservation, business and industry, universities, water suppliers, agriculture and others are taking a close look at Ohio’s water resources. The goal is to develop a 20- to 30-year comprehensive sustainable water resources management plan.

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.

“We sometimes take it for granted and we should never do that,” said Don Hollister, executive director of the Ohio League of Conservation Voters.

The Columbus-based bipartisan environmental organization is part of a 16-member steering committee that is guiding 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 groups’ findings will be reported to the steering committee with a final report and action items to be released summer 2015.

“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 in charge of keeping residents’ drinking water safe.

Ottawa is in Putnam County, an agriculture rich area that is a top soybean, corn and wheat producer in the state. Farmers there and across the state have been practicing 4-R Nutrient Stewardship: choosing the right nutrient source to apply at the right rate in the right place at the right time. The goal is to reduce the amount of phosphorus (used to improve plant growth) from running off farms and into waterways where it can fuel algae growth that is potentially harmful to wildlife and humans. Ohio Farm Bureau Federation 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.

Williams’s county is part of the Maumee Watershed, which experts say is a major contributor to the harmful blue green algal blooms. Nutrients flowing into the lake come from a variety of sources including sewer overflows, leaking septic systems, phosphorus runoff from farms and wastewater plant discharges. The problem is statewide with algal blooms reported in Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio and Buckeye Lake and Hoover Reservoir in central Ohio and East Fork Lake in southwest Ohio. It’s also a complex problem that scientists are working to better understand. For example, harmful algal blooms are also happening in lakes where there are few crops or livestock.

“I’m thankful Farm Bureau took the lead on this and has set a deadline because I could see this thing dragging out with nothing substantial happening for years,” Williams said. “We need to be ahead on this and not think about water only when it comes out of the tap dirty.”

Members of the Healthy Water Ohio steering committee:
Business and Industry:
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 Association

Lawn, Horticultural, Turf:
Scotts Miracle-Gro

Municipal Water Systems:
Village of Ottawa

Public Health:
Association of Ohio Health Commissioners

Recreation and Tourism:
Lake Erie Shores & Islands

Research, Education and Outreach:
The Ohio State University

Farmers are committed to doing their part

As members of our communities, farmers believe in acting responsibly and are concerned about Ohio’s water quality challenges and are committed to finding solutions.

The harmful algal bloom issue, which recently led to the city of Toledo losing its water supply for two days, is complex. Many groups and institutions are working to understand all of the factors involved. For several years Ohio’s agriculture community has been meeting and working together on various projects that address water quality challenges.

Among these activities, Ohio farmers have invested more than $1 million of their own money for on-farm research to seek solutions to runoff problems, supported the passage of Senate Bill 150, which will require most farmers in Ohio to be certified to apply fertilizer, and supporting a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant that led to a reduction of more than 180,000 pounds of phosphorous fertilizer across 8,653 acres in the region.

The agriculture community has cooperated with every effort it has been asked to participate in and will continue to work with state and federal government officials.

Looking forward, farmers know that the citizens of Ohio want to be assured that Ohio agriculture is prepared to do even more in the future to get this problem solved.

Farmers 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.

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Amy Graves 

Amy Graves is a communications specialist for Ohio Farm Bureau.