Monday, September 29, 2014

Statehouse News: Hall Says He's Working On Toxic Algae Issue; MBR, Next Budget Could See Amendments

Six weeks after Speaker Bill Batchelder pledged the House would "proactively review" the toxic algae problem, the chamber has yet to hold a hearing on the issue. Chairman Rep. Dave Hall, however, says he's been working on proposals that could be ready for lame duck session.  Toledo's move to ban drinking water for several days due to an outbreak of harmful algae blooms in western Lake Erie prompted widespread calls for action to combat the toxin-producing water plants now thriving in Ohio's lakes. Speaker Batchelder charged Rep. Hall, chairman of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee, to study the problem.

While there have been no committee hearings since then, Mr. Hall said that he's been busy working behind the scenes on the issue.  "It's consuming my every day waking moment," he said in an interview. "We may not be having hearings but I'm gathering a lot of information." The initial review focused on algae in Lake Erie, but the chairman said he's become convinced that the state needs to take a broader approach because the nutrient sources that feed toxic algae blooms vary in each watershed.  "Is it animal waste, is it septic systems that are failing, is it wastewater treatment systems? There's a gamut of issues all the way down to the Canadian geese," he said.

Democrats have accused Republicans of foot-dragging on the issue to avoid angering the agriculture industry during the election season.  Rep. Chris Redfern, chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party and a member of the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee, expressed doubt that the Republican-controlled administration and legislature have any appetite to really stem the flow of agricultural runoff and other pollution feeding the algae.  "There are fundamental things the government can do. Providing drinking water is one of them, and in this case this state has failed in that regard," he said.  "There'll be another crisis, people will go without water and then we'll all hand out water bottles as if that's solving the problem. It doesn't. And hopefully something happens at that time," he said. "I have no confidence that we'll be able to find any kind of real and sustained effort to mitigate the damage that was done."

Chairman Hall said he didn't see the point in calling members to Columbus just to have hearings before a viable proposal is properly before the committee.  "I like to work in stakeholder meetings before we get (proposals) out there so that our committee can be very efficient in the process," he said. "I don't just want to put a bill out there so we can pat ourselves on the back and say we got a bill passed and it's finished. This thing, this does not get finished overnight. So I'm not foot-dragging."

Ohio Farm Bureau spokesman Joe Cornely said farmers are already stepping up to do their part to reduce agricultural runoff and pointed to a high level of participation in the first fertilizer certification training course offered as part of legislation (SB 150) adopted this spring.  The Farm Bureau is willing to consider additional regulations to prevent agricultural runoff, he said. However, the organization wants to make sure any new restrictions comport with science and are worth the additional cost.  "We are willing to listen to proposals out there because we know how important this is," he said. "But what we are going to be doing, as we do at any time there is a proposed regulation, is we need to look at how realistic it is and what are the chances of unintended consequences," he added.  "It's our contention that it would be a mistake if we consider water quality as our sole goal without the recognition that we need to have viable agriculture as well," Mr. Cornely said.

Ohio Farmers' Union President Joe Logan said his organization believes the time has come for a regulatory approach because years of voluntary efforts to reduce nutrient runoff have not solved the algae problem.  However, the Farmers' Union is not asking for new legislation, he said. Rather, the group believes the administration's existing authority to impose targeted restrictions in distressed watersheds would be a better starting point, he added.  Mr. Logan said regulations on livestock farms that the administration imposed in the algae-choked Grand Lake St. Marys watershed have been helpful in alleviating the problem. "If a regulatory program is needed, we think that you should use a targeted and limited regulatory approach."  Livestock operations contribute to about one-third of the phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie, he said, citing information from the Ohio Phosphorus Task Force.  "If you're serious about addressing the issues of nutrient loading into western Lake Erie, we can't ignore that major source," he said.

Next Steps: Chairman Hall said he envisioned a "two-pronged attack" on the algae issue, with amendments to the environmental mid-biennium review measure (HB 490*) that will pass out of his committee this fall and more comprehensive proposals to be handled through the biennial budget process next spring.  "490 is probably going to help in some fixes, but as a whole picture I'd say a lot of it's going to be: are we going to be able to use our state funds ... in the budget to leverage some of the federal funds, especially in the farm bill," he said.  Rep. Hall said the Kasich administration's MBR proposal to shift oversight of livestock manure to the Ohio Department of Agriculture requires greater scrutiny since much of the federal funding for local soil and water conservation districts flows through the Department of Natural Resources.

With Congress taking notice of the toxic algae issue, state policymakers need to keep an eye on how Washington directs a potential increase in federal funding to improve water quality in the Great Lakes, he said.

Environmental groups have lobbied for tougher restrictions on livestock manure, a major algae nutrient in heavy agricultural areas. But Chairman Hall said the state needs to sort out the jurisdictional issues before revisiting the question of whether new fertilizer certification requirements should be broadened to manure.

The same goes for banning manure spreading on frozen ground, he said, pointing to questions over how to regulate the practice on leased farmland. Realities often force farmers to apply the waste at times when it can get washed off frozen fields because they lack adequate storage capacity, which can be very costly, he added.  "I think a lot of this is going to come down to helping provide some grant money to some of these farmers to be able to have these manure holding tanks," Rep. Hall said. "It's a timing issue for farmers."  Similarly, the chairman said the Clean Ohio program offers potential for boosting conservation easements that offer incentives for farmers to plant cover crops that help stem the flow of agricultural runoff.  While much of the algae discussion heretofore has centered on agricultural nutrients, another major source of the problem is sewage, both from municipal wastewater systems and home septic systems.

Chairman Hall said he was considering the possibility of new funding sources that could help local governments draw down more federal funding to upgrade combined sewer systems that flush raw sewage into waterways during heavy rains.  "The talk I would see that's going to be down here in Columbus is: can you find funds at the state level to help draw down federal dollars to help these systems be rebuilt?" he said.  One possibility is to earmark a portion of new revenue from a proposal to raise the oil and gas severance tax for local wastewater systems and conservation easement programs, he said.  Given the fact that toxic algae is a problem for several nearby states and Canada, Chairman Hall said he believes the ultimate solution will require a multi-state and international agreement similar to the Great Lakes Compact, which governs large-scale consumption of the lake water.   "Water doesn't have borders. When you have political subdivisions, in Ohio or wherever it is, it doesn't stop, it flows. So if we're impacting another state or another state is impacting us or another country, that's something we need to address on water quality," he said.

Toxin Monitoring: Meanwhile, Rep. Michael Sheehy and Rep. John Patterson announced Friday the introduction of a bill to require the monitoring of the harmful toxin microcystin in Ohio's public water systems.  "After over 400,000 Northwest Ohioans were forced to go without water in August, it became clear that we need a better, more established system for monitoring our public water systems," Rep. Sheehy said in a statement.  The proposal would set state standards for acceptable and dangerous levels of microcystin in drinking water and require the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to develop monitoring procedures.  The bill would also require public water system operators to immediately notify the local board of health if the water contains a dangerous level of microcystin. The board's director would then take steps to alert the general public.  "Access to clean water is a right that all Ohioans should have," Rep. Patterson said. "The legislature has been moving slower than we'd hoped when it comes to limiting the proliferation of harmful algal blooms. In the meantime, we must ensure that the public is informed as quickly as possible should their drinking water be compromised again."  Rep. Sheehy also recently introduced legislation that would prohibit spreading manure on frozen farm fields (HB 611).

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Importance of Oaks

NEW PHILADELPHIA, OHIO - Dave Apsley, Natural Resources Specialist - OSU Extension Jackson County, will be the featured speaker at the Oct. 1 8 PM meeting of the East Central Ohio Forestry Association (ECOFA).  Dave's program will explain the many-faceted reasons that oak trees are probably the most important tree species in Ohio.

ECOFA is an organization of persons interested in improving their woodlands and in forestry-related topics.   The public is cordially invited to attend the free meetings which are held monthly at McDonald-Marlite Lewis Conference Center, 143 McDonald Drive NW in New Philadelphia.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

New Updates to GSWCD area at the Fairgrounds.

I hope everyone has had a good week at the Fair so far!! If you haven't noticed yet, The Guernsey SWCD area has been dramatically updated. There is now a new Kiosk with tons of information and a Cover Crop Display off to the left of the building. Where the pond use to be, is now a picnic area so that people can sit and enjoy their meals. Also, there is now a pathway to the building filled in with rocks for easy access to our building. Check out the new updates to the GSWCD area when you are out at the fair!!!! We will be at our Fair building Friday from around 11:30 am to 6 pm for anyone with questions. Please check our our Facebook page as well as our blogspot at

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


COLUMBUS, September 10, 2014 – Earlier this week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the Department of Agriculture’s investment of $328 million to help private landowners protect and restore key farmlands, grasslands and wetlands. The 2014 Farm Bill created the new Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, or ACEP, to protect critical wetlands and keep lands in farming for the future.

“Conservation easements help farmers protect valuable agricultural lands from development while enhancing lands best suited for grazing and wetlands to their natural conditions,” State Conservationist Terry Cosby said. “These easements have a dramatic and positive impact on food supply, rural communities, and wildlife habitat.”

Through ACEP, private landowners and eligible conservation partners can request assistance from USDA to protect and restore agricultural land through an agricultural or wetland easement.

Ohio landowners and farmland protection organizations submitted 93 applications requesting $18 million in ACEP funding for conservation easements and wetland restorations. Ohio received $8.3 million for purchasing 17 high quality conservation easements through ACEP, which will protect and restore about 4,500 acres of Ohio’s prime farmland and wetlands.

Farmland and wetlands with conservation easements benefit Ohio residents by improving water quality, providing critical habitat for threatened and endangered species, and preventing the development of prime farmland, which increases food security and provides jobs.

ACEP consolidates three former NRCS easement programs – Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, Grasslands Reserve Program and Wetlands Reserve Program – into two components – one that protects farmlands and grasslands and another that protects and restores critical wetlands.

“The 2014 Farm Bill streamlined USDA’s major easement programs into one to make it as easy as possible for landowners to participate,” State Conservationist Cosby said.

Find more information on ACEP here. To learn about technical and financial assistance available through conservation programs, visit or local your USDA service center.  Kim Ray, the District Conservationist for the Guernsey/Noble NRCS office can be reached at 740-432-5621

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Warmer weather helps Ohio crops

September 8, 2014 By John Perkins Brownfield Ag News for America

A warmer than normal week helped out crop development around Ohio, but the state branch of the National Ag Statistics Service notes farmers are wary about the chance of an early frost, because weather has been unpredictable.
Temperatures around the state last week were more than 4 degrees warmer than normal and rainfall averaged just under nine tenths of an inch.
93% of corn is at the dough making stage, compared to the five year average of 94%, with 60% dented, compared to 66% on average, and 8% mature, compared to 13% on average. 14% of corn has been harvested for silage and 76% of the crop is rated good to excellent.
12% of soybeans are dropping leaves, compared to 20% on average, with 71% of beans called good to excellent.

State Touts Increased Shale Production; Environmentalists Fight Proposed Pipeline & Coal Permitting Changes

Horizontally fractured wells in Ohio produced more gas in the last three months than production from all of the wells in the state during 2012, the Department of Natural Resources
announced Monday.  Ohio's horizontal shale wells produced 2.47 million barrels of oil and 88.67 billion cubic feet of natural gas during the second quarter of 2014, according to ODNR's latest tally.  The quarterly report comes two months after ODNR lauded a spike in production during 2013, when natural gas output from the Utica Shale doubled 2012 totals. Of the 562 wells in the report, 504 reported production results with the remaining 58 still waiting on pipeline infrastructure.  For the producing wells, the average amount of oil produced was 4,895 barrels and 175,939 Mcf of natural gas.  The highest producing oil well was the Antero Resources "Myron" well in Noble County at 78,309 barrels of oil in 91 days of production. The highest producing natural gas well was the Hall Drilling "Hercher North" well in Monroe County at 1.4 billion cubic feet during 91 days of production.

Water Quality: The Ohio Environmental Council decried the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency's proposed changes to the nationwide 401 water quality certification process for pipeline and coal mining activities that impact wetlands and streams.  "Per Ohio EPA's proposal, many oil and gas pipelines and most coal remining projects will now be approved under Nationwide Permits with no state water quality review, and will result in serious irreversible water quality impacts statewide," OEC attorney Nathan Johnson said in written testimony provided during a recent hearing on the proposal.  OEPA has said the proposal would streamline the 401 certification process to make it more efficient. The proposed changes would eliminate certain state environmental review thresholds for pipelines and coal surface "remining" projects that span wetlands and streams that are already weaker than those of West Virginia and Kentucky, Mr. Johnson said.  "Even more projects will avoid requirements for impact avoidance and minimization. Ohio EPA is also surrendering state oversight and enforcement authority over the mitigation of pipelines and mining impacts," he said.  Mr. Johnson also questioned the coal industry's influence on the proposal, noting emails obtained through public records requests show likely coordination with the Ohio Coal Association.

Christian Palich, the Coal Association's manager of government affairs, said the proposed changes would make the 401 certification process for remining activities more consistent with a similar federal permitting process through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  Moreover, the proposed changes would apply regulations to remining in old surface mines that were mined before federal Clean Water Act projections took effect, he said. "Every project will benefit water quality because we are taking pre-law mining areas and lifting the hydrology."

September 9 is Protect Your Groundwater Day!

Soil and Water Conservation Districts and other promotional partners of  the National Ground Water Association (NGWA) encourage everyone to protect public health and the environment by protecting groundwater.    In the United States, 44 percent of the population regularly depends on groundwater, and 42 million Americans rely on privately owned and operated household water wells for their drinking water supply. Another 88 million residents rely on groundwater-supplied community water systems.   Household water-well owners in particular, can make a major difference in water quality by how they manage their well systems and property.  People who do not have household wells can also make huge contributions to groundwater quality by taking steps to conserve water and maintain their septic system. For more information, go to

Friday, September 5, 2014

Additional Funding Enhances Ohio’s Water Quality Improvement Efforts

US EPA grants will provide $7.4 million to combat Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB)

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) recently announced Ohio will receive $7.4 million in federal grants to continue successful water quality initiatives already underway and reduce harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative funding was granted after a meeting between U.S. EPA leaders and the Directors of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) and Ohio Department of Agriculture.

Ohio has committed substantial efforts and resources toward improving water quality including:

More than $150 million for water treatment plant upgrades, water testing and HAB research
Mandatory fertilizer application certification for Ohio farmers, with classes starting this month
Implementation of agricultural best management practices in the Lake Erie Watershed
Reduction of open lake disposal of dredge material

The additional funding will be administered through the Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative and will target soil testing, the planting of winter cover crops, installation of controlled drainage structures, precision soil testing and fertilizer management, the construction of manure storage and roofed feedlots and expanded tributary monitoring.

ODNR will work with soil and water conservation districts in the Maumee Watershed to connect with farmers and implement the above best management practices. Previous Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative programs have waiting lists of farmers wanting to participate and ODNR anticipates great interest in the enhanced programs. Ohio EPA will initiate the enhanced monitoring to continue to track the effectiveness of these best management practices.

A link to the U.S. EPA release can be found at

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Field Night for Woodland Owners

Field Night for Woodland Owners – “Preparing for a Timber Harvest” offered on September 30th in Hocking County

Proper preparation is key to accomplishing goals
and minimizing damage to your woodlands
Woodland owners often turn to their woodlands for income, but often they don’t use this occasion to improve their forest for wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and future timber production.  The Ohio State University Extension-Hocking County, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources-Division of Forestry, and the Vinton and Hocking County SWCDs are partnering to offer a program designed to help woodland owners understand the process of preparing for a timber harvest.   Topics covered will include:
  •  Inventorying and Marking for a Timber Harvest
  •  Best Management Practices 
  • Notice of Intent to Harvest and Timber Harvest Planning – SWCD 
  • Wildlife Habitat Improvement 
  • Timber Stand Improvement 
  • Improving access for future use 
  • Call Before You Cut  (; 1-877-424-8288) and other resources available to help woodland owners with the process of harvesting timber 
This program will be presented by: Mark Rickey, ODNR-Division of Forestry; Cody Hacker, Vinton County SWCD; Dave Apsley, OSU Extension, Jerry Iles, OSU Extension-Hocking County, and Amelia Hettinger, Hocking County SWCD.  
It will take place on Tuesday, September 30th from 5 pm to dark at the Patnode Farm near the intersection of SR 180 and SR 678.  
This program qualifies for 2.5 credits under the Ohio Forest Tax Law Program.  
Space is limited so please register by Friday, September 26th.  
For more information and to register please contact  Jerry Iles at The Ohio State University Extension-Hocking County (740-385-3222 or