Thursday, July 10, 2014

Farm, Business Conservation Groups Kick Off Water Management Strategy Coalition

A broad coalition convened by statewide agriculture groups announced plans Monday to work together to develop a long-term strategy for managing Ohio's water resources.  Members of Healthy Water Ohio, an initiative the Ohio Farm Bureau started last fall, said they planned to commission a poll to gather input about Ohioans' concerns regarding water quality and quantity.  The polling data will be used to guide development of a 20 to 30-year water management strategy for the state that the coalition expects to issue in the summer of 2015.

Larry Antosch, senior director of environmental policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau, said HWO would review a wide variety of water-related concerns before developing its recommendations.  "We really don't know what the final product's going to look like, but our vision is that there would be key issues identified, goals and opportunities and some strategy items," he told reporters during a conference call.

In addition to the Farm Bureau, the coalition's 16-member steering committee includes representatives of: Anheuser-Busch; the Association of Ohio Health Commissioners; Farm Credit Mid-America; Ohio Cattlemen's Association; Ohio Corn Marketing Program; Lake Erie Shores & Islands; Ohio AgriBusiness Association; Ohio Dairy Producers Association; Ohio Soybean Council; Scotts Miracle-Gro; Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts; Ohio League of Conservation Voters; the Nature Conservancy; Ohio State University; and the Village of Ottawa.

A total of 30 groups have already participated in the initiative and more will be invited to engage with working groups that will focus on specific subjects, the coalition said.

Larry Fletcher, executive director of Lake Erie Shores & Islands, said the coalition's steering committee would review economic concerns stemming from pollution and limited quantities of water.  "Any time people cannot be assured of having plentiful, safe water for drinking, cooking, irrigating, bathing, for shipping, any other purpose, there's bound to be some economic impact. So we'll certainly be focusing on that," he said.

The group will also consider aging water-related infrastructure, he said, pointing to locks on the Ohio River and dams and public water supply systems around the state. In addition, it will investigate the issue of dredging in Lake Erie and the effects that climate change will have on the state as floods, droughts and precipitation events become increasingly extreme, he said.

Ohio Farm Bureau President Steve Hirsch said the outcome of the plan will determine the coalition's next course of action.  "We may have to do some lobbying, we may have to do some public education, there may be lots of things in there that we have to do," he said.  The coalition will also address harmful algae blooms that have plagued Ohio's lakes in recent years, said John Stark, freshwater director for the Nature Conservancy.

Agriculture groups were key stakeholders in legislation (SB 150) passed this spring that is designed to reduce the amount of chemical fertilizer running off into streams and rivers that feed toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, Grand Lake St. Marys and other lakes around the state.

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