In November 2019, Gov. Mike DeWine launched H2Ohio as a long-term, data-driven water quality plan to reduce harmful algal blooms, improve wastewater infrastructure and address lead contamination in Ohio. As 2020 came to a close, the directors of all of the state agencies involved in the program gave an update on the initial rollout and implementation.
“The participation and commitment of almost 2,000 producers in the 14 counties of the Maumee River Watershed was more than anyone could have anticipated,” said Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda. “The program now, through the producers’ commitment, encompasses almost 1.2 million acres of voluntary nutrient management plans and represents about 43% of the total cropland in those 14 counties.”
Payouts began taking place in October and will continue through spring, based upon verification that producers were putting conservation measures in place. ODA also has begun engaging producers in a program that enables them to sign an acknowledgement that they will be participating in these same practices in the ensuing second and third year of the program.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources is focusing on nature-based solutions with funds from H2Ohio, working primarily on the creation, restoration or the enhanced use of wetlands.
“The beauty of the wetlands solution is that not only does it not only involve nutrient reduction, but it also works to sequester carbon, promotes wildlife habitat and creates recreational opportunities,” said ODNR Director Mary Mertz. “More than 40 wetlands projects have been developed across Ohio using an over $50 million H2Ohio investment.”
Mertz also mentioned the Lake Erie CREP program, a new federal initiative that will incentivize Ohio farmers to move some acres, most likely poorly producing ground, into wetlands. ODNR has set aside funding to use as a bonus payment to entice farmers to get involved in this program. Farmers have until the end of January to sign up.
As far as the future of H2Ohio, there is a lot of optimism for the near and long term.
“In 2021, we intend to expand the program to the additional 10 counties in the Lake Erie region by beginning with a basic nutrient management plan,” Pelanda said. “We think the legislature is on board with us and very committed to the H2Ohio program, and we will continue to demonstrate our passion and commitment in moving forward with this program with them.”
Pelanda emphasized that the long-term plan is to expand H2Ohio statewide, carefully and thoughtfully, with funding that is “absolutely necessary” to expand the program.