LIA updates members on proposed changes

Staff Writer

The battle between the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) and the Lake Improvement Association over changes to the distressed watershed package is still ongoing, according to LIA President Nick Rentz.
Right before September’s meeting, it was brought to LIA member’s attention ODA was ‘quietly’ pushing through legislation that would change how producers could treat their crops during the winter months. The biggest, and most concerning change, was to the winter manure ban currently in place from December to January. The new rules suggest situations in which farmers could spread manure on their land, if certain criteria were met.
According to Rentz, one major issue with the new rules was how was it going to be enforced. The Soil and Water District in Mercer County doesn’t have the manpower to watch every single farmer in the watershed at all hours of the days, Rentz mentioned during Saturday’s meeting.
“The manure ban was put in place because it was very, very easy to enforce,” he said. “Citizens could watch for producers doing this. The reality is that soil and water does not have the manpower to physically go out there and watch every farmer at every hour of the day.
Now the majority of our producers are excellent, they’re not going to do this even if the law passes, but there are guys that will take advantage of the system unfortunately. That is why we have laws and why we have rules.”
One major reason for not wanting the same rules as those in the Lake Erie watershed is because of differences in farming practices. According to Rentz, the Lake Erie watershed — 1.8 million acres of ground — is receiving a lot more chemical fertilizer treatment then those in Grand Lake.
“A lot of road croppers up there, we have 57,000 acres with nothing but manure,” Rentz said. “I mean you can count on one, two hands how many chemical fertilizers we have around here. It’s just a really, really ridiculous way of doing things.
“To look at land, to look at ecological structures and say, ‘you know what, one size fits all.’ Not going to fly. We’ll fight that thing tooth and nail if this thing goes on.”
Someone asked if LIA was coordinating with groups like Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie (ACLE) about the proposal. Rentz said there were some conversations, however, he didn’t want them to get to involved with them because LIA still wants Grand Lake to have it’s own rules. He mentioned that if ACLE wanted to adopt Grand Lake’s package, that is their decision, but they don’t want Lake Erie’s package because what is in place for Grand Lake is working for Grand Lake.
Rentz also mentioned that when he called ODA, he was told they had never received so many emails and letters before regarding beginning stage comments on a bill change. That being said, there are still two more boards the changes have to pass through — Common Sense Initiative and the Joint Committee of Agency Rule Review (JCARR).
Rentz mentioned that earlier in the week Dr. Tom Knapke — facilitator for the Lake Restoration Commission who passed away recently — had received an email from ODA stating that for the most part, the proposal was going to stay the same, with a few new nutrient management plan audits added.
“For this organization, that is wholly unacceptable,” Rentz said. “We came back to them and said, ‘if you have to have some winter manure spreading, if it absolutely has to happen, maybe we look at a one-off permit, 12-hour permit, so [soil and water] can monitor who is doing this and maybe that will take down on the spring spikes a little bit. If we have to change it at all, maybe, we can live with something like that. That’s a maybe.’”
Rentz hopes that either the Common Sense Initiative or JCARR will squash the bill. He added that producers in the area are used to the ban, along with soil and water.
“It’s actually working, we’ve had the best year we’ve ever had out here,” Rentz said. “It’s very, very, very disappointing that they are trying to do this. [ODA] knows our position, they know we’re disappointed. At the end of the day we still have to try to work with them.”
Another question that was brought up was who was pushing the bill and who should be contacted — besides legislatures — to voice opposition. According to Rentz, no one has stepped up to claim responsibility for the legislation. He did note however, that Governor John Kasich did try to push a bill with similar language regarding the watersheds, once as a senate bill and again as an executive order, which were both unsuccessful. He couldn’t conclude for a fact Kasich is behind the current proposal.
As for who to contact, that information, he said, wouldn’t be available until each committee opens it up for public comment. Rentz mentioned once that happens, the LIA will send out emails and notifications to its members.  
Dr. Steven Jacquemin closed out the meeting giving an update on treatment trains in the lake. He said that Prairie Creek’s treatment train has been shut down for the year, and improvements are coming to the site to make it even more effective in the spring. Presently, the treatment train is processing about 1 million gallons of water in a day and he said they are planning to install a second pipe that will pump water through, doubling that amount.
They also will be digging out some part of the sediment in the front end of the treatment train. Jacquemin said that while nitrate — one of the chemicals in the lake that feeds the algae — will go into the air, phosphorus — another chemical that feeds algae — settles. This is what has happened at Prairie Creek. He said that as the vegetation dies during the fall, it merges with the sediment in the soil and the phosphorus builds up.
“We always knew this day would come, we just didn’t know when it was going to happen,” he said. “We didn’t know if it would take 10 years to fill up or five years, and it’s been five years so it’s time to dig it out.”
He said that in doing this, it will “reset” Prairie Creek, making it better and more efficient.