LIA 'not pleased' with Ohio Department of Agriculture

Staff Writer

On Saturday, Lake Improvement Association (LIA) President Nick Rentz announced to those attending the monthly LIA meeting that it was brought to his attention early that morning that the Ohio Department of Agriculture wants to, and has proposed, new changes to the distressed watershed rules package.
The new proposal would lift the winter manure ban and replace it with a set of conditions where spreading of manure would not be allowed. Circumstances where manure would not be allowed to be applied on the surface include:
• “On snow covered or frozen soil.”
• “When the top two inches of soil are saturated from precipitation.”
• “When local weather forecasts for the application area contains greater than 50 percent chance of precipitation exceeding .5-inch in a 24-hour period.”
Setting up these regulations, along with other regulations detailing when manure would be allowed to be spread during the winter months, lead to concern for the LIA, that producers would be able to spread all year round.
“The Ohio Department of Agriculture might counter that [ability to spread manure year round] and say, ‘no they can’t; [farmers] can spread year round if the conditions are right,’” Rentz said. “However, if you read through [the proposal] you’ll see that there are exceptions that even when the conditions aren’t right, so long as they can inject the manure or chizel it in or work it in within 24 hours they can still spread all year round, so that’s the concern.”
On Sunday, the LIA sent out a press release that included a copy of the proposed changes on their website, along with a statement about the LIA’s position on the new rules.
“On behalf of the thousands of members and concerned citizens that The Lake Improvement Association represents, we feel that any changes that complicate manure spreading rules in our watershed at this time would be reckless and unfounded given the advances that have been made in decreasing nutrients from fields,” the statement read.
The release went on to address that the changes were “drafted, voted on and listed for public comment,” without having any contact with those at a local level — Grand Lake St. Marys — who have been working to reduce the microcystin toxin levels in the lake. It was confirmed later that neither Rentz nor Dr. Stephen Jacquemin, lead author on a recently published academic article, “Changes in the Water Quality of Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed Following Implementation of a Distressed Watershed Rules Package,” were not contacted by anyone at ODA about the proposed changes.
A further concern the LIA had with the proposal was with the fact it was pushed through on Friday night before a long weekend and furthermore leaving seven-days from Friday for public comment.
The news of this change came the same day Dr. Jacquemin gave a presentation update — with graphs and data — about the progressive year GLSM has had in 2018, to the LIA. This also comes eight-months after Jacquemin published academic work measuring how the current distressed watershed rules package was positively affecting the outcome of GLSM. The article details how the current winter manure ban — what the updated rules package is attempting to replace — had provided the highest reduction of total suspended solids (TSS), particulate phosphorus (PP), soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP), nitrate-nitrite and total kjeldahl nitrogen (TKN). The article also attributed some of the reduction to the best management practices and nutrient management practices coming from the producers in the watershed.
“To try to experiment by moving in a different trajectory just would not seem to make any sense at this time,” Rentz said of the proposal. “This has been the best year that Grand Lake has had in recent memory. Things are starting to come back. We don’t feel this is the time to introduce new legislation in terms of a distressed watershed.”
While the LIA is not completely against some of the new additions to the rules package as it also addresses the application of chemical fertilizers, a major concern revolves around who is going to ensure the new rules are being implemented and followed. Rentz mentioned that Grand Lake doesn’t have the manpower to enforce the new regulations, and that was part of the reason the manure ban was put into place.
“These are very good conservation, agricultural practices that we support 100 percent,” Rentz said. “We just don’t feel that these are enforceable in the same way that the manure ban is.”
According to Rentz, the Mercer Soil and Water Conservation District would be the ones who would “enforce” this, although they are not a regulatory board.
Rentz also voiced a concern about what this opposition will do to relationship LIA has with the farmers and producers inside the watershed. He applauded the efforts the farmers and producers have shown, and appreciates their willingness to adapt to the policies and work to lower their nutrient levels. He said that the LIA’s stance is not against the farmers, but against the proposed legislation by ODA.
The Evening Leader reached out to ODA for comment but was unable to reach anyone because of the holiday.