By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Ohio Field Leader
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine unveiled an overview of his new H2Ohio plan for water quality Thursday afternoon in Toledo. Backdropped by the National Museum of the Great Lakes, Governor DeWine presented basic details of the plan to an invited audience of over 100 farmers and legislators, as well as collaborators from farm associations, conservation groups, universities and research centers, agribusinesses, and public and government entities.
“H2Ohio is a dedicated, holistic water quality plan that has long lasting solutions,” said Governor DeWine. “It addresses the causes of the problems and not just the symptoms.”
H2Ohio will invest in targeted solutions to help reduce harmful algal blooms, ensure clean water in disadvantaged communities, and prevent lead contamination in daycare centers and schools. In July, the Ohio General Assembly invested $172 million in the plan.
“This is one of the most comprehensive data-driven planning processes in our state’s history. The plan is based on science and on economics,” DeWine said. “It focuses on directing the resources that we have on practices that have been studied and that we know will make a difference because they have already been proven to work. This plan is different because we have put together a broad coalition of agriculture, research, conservation, and environmental interest groups that believe this is the right approach to tackle this problem. It has tangible, measurable changes that will have lasting impacts. It is a comprehensive approach to our statewide water quality problems.”
The largest portion of the H2Ohio plan is aimed at phosphorus reduction best practices for farmers.
“Not all phosphorus comes from farms, but most does. Studies show that nutrient runoff accounts for most of the phosphorus load in the Maumee River watershed,” DeWine said. “Ten key practices have been identified as having the best potential to reduce the most phosphorus at the lowest cost. They will give us the most bang for our buck.”
Through a certification process, H2Ohio will provide economic incentives to farmers who develop a nutrient management plan that includes a combination of the best practices. These practices include: 1. Soil Testing, 2. Variable-rate fertilization, 3. Subsurface nutrient application, 4. Manure incorporation, 5. Conservation crop rotation, 6. Cover crops, 7. Drainage water management. 8. Edge-of-field buffers, 10. Wetlands.
“H2Ohio will provide an economic incentive to farmers to follow these best practices. It will be done through a certification process whereby farmers will only be eligible for this money if they follow a nutrient management plan,” DeWine said.
The governor said H2Ohio would first be targeted at the Maumee River Watershed in northwest Ohio. Ultimately it will be taken to the rest of the state of Ohio. Farmers in the Maumee River Watershed will be able to enroll in H2Ohio programs for funding incentives in time for spring 2020 planting.
“Wetlands will be a large part of the H2Ohio plan. These will not just be in the Maumee River Watershed, but also other key areas of Ohio. We have several successful wetland programs now. Adding more wetlands in Ohio will reduce excess phosphorus and nitrogen levels in our water, and store carbon. They will add critical habitat that promotes a diverse array of wildlife. They will help manage periodic flooding. They will also offer additional recreation opportunities from hunting and fishing to hiking and simply wildlife viewing. I am very excited about these possibilities,” DeWine said. “Wetlands will provide multiple benefits. The ODNR will announce specific projects in the coming months.”
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency will be monitoring the phosphorus loading in Lake Erie and the Ohio River along with evaluating new technologies that can contribute to these efforts. EPA activities will be focused primarily outside the Maumee River Watershed under H2Ohio. They will be working to protect Ohio’s drinking water and, under the direction of the EPA, H2Ohio will be funding wastewater infrastructure projects in disadvantaged communities. H2Ohio funds will also help to replace hundreds of failing home septic systems for low income households, and H2Ohio will be assessing lead exposure in schools and day care facilities from lead pipes as well.
At the same time, the Ohio Agriculture Conservation Initiative (OACI) will establish a baseline understanding of current conservation and nutrient management efforts on farm fields and build farmer participation in a new certification program in partnership with the DeWine Administration. OACI is an innovative collaboration of agricultural, conservation, environmental and research communities formed in early 2019 to strategically address Ohio’s water quality issues.
“Ohio’s farmers have long demonstrated their commitment to doing what is right for Ohio’s waterways, and OACI is acutely aware that some farmers need support in implementing water quality best practices. OACI recognizes this is best done through baseline establishment of practices and increased promotion and education within the farm community,” said Scott Higgins, co-chair of OACI and CEO of the Ohio Dairy Producers Association. “There are approximately 75,000 farmers in the state of Ohio, with about 17,000 farmers located in the Western Lake Erie Basin. We thank the DeWine Administration for bringing resources to the table. OACI looks forward to continued public-private partnership with the DeWine Administration that will ensure that each farm is assessed fairly and uniquely.”
OACI has been working diligently throughout 2019 to develop a benchmark of agricultural best practices and create a framework for voluntary certification of Ohio’s farms, all to support healthy waterways in the state.