Legislators who are a part of the Lake Erie Working Group met earlier this month in the Moot Trial Room of Ohio Northern University's Tilton Hall of Law to heart expert testimony on the potential causes and possible solutions for the impairment of the Western Basin of Lake Erie.
Legislators who are a part of the Lake Erie Working Group met earlier this month in the Moot Trial Room of Ohio Northern University's Tilton Hall of Law to heart expert testimony on the potential causes and possible solutions for the impairment of the Western Basin of Lake Erie.

ADA — On Wednesday, Oct. 3, the Lake Erie Study Group met at Ohio Northern University in Ada. Co-chaired by state Sen. Bob Hackett (R., London) and Rep. Brian Hill (R., Zanesville), the working group also includes Sen. Rob McColley (R., Napoleon) and Rep. Jim Hoops (R., Napoleon) whose districts include Putnam County; along with Sens. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green), Edna Brown (D., Toledo), and Reps. Michael Sheehy (D., Oregon), Steve Arndt (R., Port Clinton), and Riordan McClain (R., Upper Sandusky).

The first testimony of the day came from Kris Swartz, a Supervisor with the Wood Co. Soil & Water Conservation District. After providing a brief overview on the history of Soil & Water Conservation Districts throughout the state, Swartz said, “We strive daily to continue to deliver locally led, voluntary efforts that make a positive impact on the water quality, soil health, erosion reduction, habitat improvement, and more…Today, our workload continues to increase, especially in the Lake Erie watershed due to water quality issues impacting the resources.”

Following his opening statement, the elected officials present proceeded to question Swartz on the status of current efforts, and what he thought might still be needed.

“I’ve met with a lot of farmers up in my area,” began Hoops. “It seems like a lot of them are doing a lot of good things already, but when I asked this question in the group I was with, ‘Do you know of farmers who aren’t doing things like the 4R Program?’, they just kind of put their eyes down, and you knew that they knew people who weren’t doing it. Do you find that to be the case with farmers that you work with? And, if so, how do we get them to see the importance of doing things like this to try and solve this problem.”

“I think most farmers want to do the right thing,” responded Swartz. “I think most farmers think that their neighbors are doing the right thing. The difficulty we have sometimes with this issue is that it’s hard to visually see if you’re doing the right or wrong thing.”

“This is really unseen. There’s a field I have directly south of my farm where I have controlled drainage structures. I do VRT (variable rate technology). I do cover crops. And, I think the water coming off the tile is measurably cleaner than my neighbors, but I don’t know.”

“So it’s hard,” emphasized Swartz. “I’ve spent this money. I willingly did it. But, I don’t know that I want to tell my neighbors that they have to spend this money when I cannot concretely say that I know it’s led to better water quality. That’s a problem.”

Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler followed Swartz in offering testimony before the working group. As requested by the Co-chair Sen. Hackett, Butler focused his remarks on the data informing current decision making.

“The data is now helping us in two very specific ways,” Swartz said. “One is, what are the predominate sources of phosphorus - dissolved, reactive, and total phosphorus - in terms of the source. Where is the predominant source? While we focus on all sources, comprehensively, where does the majority source come from? And then, hopefully, [this data] gives us some guidance on where we invest our dollars and resources.”

“Second, it also gives us some indication geographically. Where are we seeing the predominance of these nutrient resources coming into the Maumee River? We also believe that this also helps give us specificity on where, again, we should target our policy and financial resources overall.”

Swartz then provided an overview of the Nutrient Mass Balance study. A study initiated by the Ohio legislature under HB64 in 2015 and published in April of this year.

“In this report, we’ve really spent a significant amount of time working with our staff and our peers, trying to account for all sources of phosphorus across the watershed,” explained Swartz. “That includes point sources that we regulate at the Ohio EPA, industrial discharges, wastewater treatment plant discharges. Anybody that has a wastewater treatment plant gets a permit from the Ohio EPA for their discharge, and we consider that a point source.”

“There are a variety of non-point sources, certainly storm water runoff in a urban setting. Combined sewer overflows to the extent that we have them, which we do have, and several ended up in the watershed.”

“And, by far, what we think is the predominate non-point source in this region and Maumee River, is the non-point source agriculture run-off.