H2Ohio Money Appropriated

Outdoors with Forda Birds—By John Andreoni

When Governor DeWine signed the $69 billion dollar biennial budget a few days ago, it was evident that the administration was being very proactive on a number of issues such as providing resources to children and families, as well as to Ohio’s education system, workforce, local communities, and mental health and addiction recovery efforts. The environment was also targeted to receive significant funding, and many interested in the outdoors watched to see whether various outdoor issues would be addressed. For example, having access to land for hunting, fishing, camping, etc. is a concern and there is always a shortage. With this in mind, for years AEP in southeastern Ohio has provided almost 60,000 acres of reclaimed strip mining areas for outdoorsmen to use free of charge. This land is now for sale, and the state has first dibs on it. Losing this land would be would be a disaster to outdoorsmen, but it looks like money has been appropriated to purchase this vast amount of acreage, as long as things go as planned.

Water quality was another issue addressed in the new biennial budget. Initially, $900 million dollars over a ten-year period was being sought. In the final budget, roughly $85 million dollars a year was appropriated for two years. Evidently, the 10-year program was axed because certain lawmakers didn’t want to create a long-term whipping boy that would be available for budget cuts if the economy went south. As a result, these newly available monies are primarily directed at Lake Erie’s algae problems and other inland water quality issues. In general, the H2Ohio Fund was created to ensure safe and clean water across Ohio by providing the resources necessary to plan, develop, and implement targeted, long-term water quality programs.

Although Lake Ere and its $15 billion dollar recreation industry will get a major chunk of this funding, Grand Lake St. Marys should get its fair share since we are part of Erie’s problem and an integral part of Ohio’s recreational resources. At a recent legislative luncheon initiated by the St. Marys COC, State Senator Rob McColley of Napoleon commented that much of the money would be locally applied. He mentioned the positive effects of our treatment trains and that currently the farmers were not necessarily the main source of nutrient pollution. For the most part, he said, farmers are following the rules and protocols designed to reduce phosphorus loading. He continued by saying that more could be done, especially in terms of soil testing. Legacy phosphorus, phosphorus stored for years in the soil and silt deposits, is a major issue. “Farmers need to be incentivized to test their soil,” McColley said. “Wasting fertilizer isn’t good business.”

There are many ways to prevent the release of legacy phosphorus from agricultural land in a watershed area. For example, building wetlands or treatment trains like we have at Prairie Creek, Coldwater Creek, and Beaver Creek have had a major effect on water quality at Lake St. Marys. Growing cover crops and other buffers along with installing phosphorus filters could also have a major effect. According to some researchers, field tiles are also a major issue. Studies show that water discharged from tiles into drainage ditches carries nutrients which contribute to algae blooms. Studies need to be developed to determine the amount of phosphorus that is transported to our lakes by this method. From what I’ve been told, there’s a certain amount of science involved in tiling a field. The types of soil, crops generally planted, and other factors determine how much tile is needed and how wide apart it should be buried. Evidently, some farmers think that more is good, and the distance between tiles has steadily decreased which promotes quicker flood water removal.

Dealing with legacy phosphorus in GLSM is another issue. Local studies are showing that the dredging program has now reached a level where the external loading of phosphorus is now less than the amount of phosphorus the dredges are removing. For as long as I can remember, silt removal was a break-even program at best. Finding a way to completely remove legacy phosphorus from the lake would be ideal. I’d love to see what it would take to accomplish this expressed quantitatively. How much silt would need to be removed? Where would it go? How much would it cost? The numbers would be astronomical.

Regardless, it sounds like this administration is serious about getting some things done and putting money up front to fund their goals. From what I’ve seen of the new appointments in the ODNR, the people who are in place are more than able to do the job. It could be refreshing watching our state government at work for the next two years. It sure beats the dog and pony shows and goat ropings that take place on the federal level.