Last updated: February 09. 2014 5:05PM - 1647 Views
By Heather Rutz hrutz@civitasmedia.com

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COLUMBUS — A bill that would require fertilizer runoff regulations to protect Grand Lake and other inland lakes will move to the Ohio House this week.

Farmers in the Grand Lake region are already doing much of what the bill would require. The legislation would require training and certification for applying fertilizer and would promote farmers’ voluntary nutrient management plans, which are already required for farmers in the Grand Lake Watershed.

The Ohio Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 150 Jan. 22. A day later, the bill was assigned to the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee. The committee will hold its first hearing on the bill Tuesday with sponsors state Sens. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, and Bob Peterson, R-Washington Court House, in southern Ohio.

“Algae is a growing issue in all of Ohio’s streams and lakes that needs to be addressed immediately,” said Hite, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “This is one step forward in protecting Ohio’s water by creating more mindful standards for the application of agriculture nutrients.”

Grand Lake has been plagued by toxic algae since federal officials discovered it there in 2009. Annual warnings have hurt the local tourism economy. Also called cyanobacteria, blue-green algae are common in most lakes. In the shallow Grand Lake, algae has grown thick feeding on phosphorus from manure and fertilizers that rain washes from nearby farm fields. The algae produces liver and nerve toxins that can sicken people and kill pets and fish.

People in the region, including farmers and other business owners and residents have worked together and used government funding and privately raised funds to address the issue, partly through pilot projects.

Around Grand Lake, “the farming community has responded to the problem,” said Milt Miller, Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission manager. The group favored solutions over finger-pointing, Miller said, and as a result has made progress.

“We’ve been at the leading edge of this, and much of what’s being proposed has already been in place in our watershed,” Miller said.

Conditions at the lake improved last year, as Grand Lake and the region saw increased usage and fewer reported problems, Miller said.

Senate Bill 150 would require the chief of the Division of Soil and Water Resources to establish standards to abate wind or water erosion of soil, and would authorize the chief to develop an operation and management plan to address agricultural pollution. This legislation would also establish new requirements for applying fertilizer for agriculture production and encourage the use of nutrient management plans to reduce potential runoff.

If the bill is passed by the House, the fertilizer application certification program would begin Sept. 30 on the third year after the law’s effective date, according to The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Someone who applies “fertilizer” for agricultural production on land more than 50 acres in size would have to be certified by ODA as a fertilizer applicator, or would have to be acting under the instruction of a certified fertilizer applicator.

Under the bill, “fertilizer” means any substance containing nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium or any recognized plant nutrient element or compound that is used for its plant nutrient content or for compounding mixed fertilizers. The definition of fertilizer does not include lime, manure and residual farm products such as bedding, wash waters, waste feed, silage drainage and certain dead animal composts, unless those are mixed with fertilizer materials or distributed with a guaranteed analysis.

The bill allows the ODA to establish a fee for applicants who seek certification, but the fee may not exceed the fee charged for the state’s pesticide applicator certification program. Additionally, the bill exempts persons who hold an Ohio commercial or private pesticide applicator’s license from paying an additional application fee if they also seek fertilizer application certification.

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