Satellite image of Lake Erie captured on March 7, 2020.
Satellite image of Lake Erie captured on March 7, 2020.

PUTNAM COUNTY — Last November, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine unveiled a plan his administration described as “a comprehensive, data-driven water quality plan to reduce harmful algal booms, improve wastewater infrastructure, and prevent lead contamination.”

“We have a moral obligation to preserve and protect our natural resources,” Governor DeWine said late last year. “Ohio has supported many programs to help farmers reduce nutrient loss over the years, but the state hasn’t done nearly enough, nor have previous plans focused enough, on reducing phosphorus runoff from agriculture. That changes now.”

To that end, the Ohio Assembly set aside $172 million, $30 million of which was ceded over to the Ohio Department of Agriculture. The ODA in turn has made those monies available to producers in 14 counties, including Putnam.

For Putnam County farmers, the plan — simply called H2Ohio — creates the opportunity to take the high road, to adopt measures designed to reduce nutrient runoff, but to do so while mitigating the financial burden inherent in such action.

For Soil and Water Conservation District personnel in the affected counties, the response has proven nearly overwhelming at times, but, above all, satisfying.

“Normally, we have five producers who come in in a week,” Sarah Rieman with the Putnam Soil and Water Conservation District, said. “Now, sometimes we have that many producers coming in in an hour. We are averaging about 10 guys every day between appointments and walk-ins, maybe 10 to 15 farmers a day. And we started signing guys up the first week of February.”

As of March 10, Rieman reported her office had signed up over 30,000 acres, encumbering roughly $2 million of the $30 million the ODA designated for the program. But what happens if the other 13 counties follow suit? When the money’s gone, what then? According to Rieman, there’s more where that came from.

“Once they spend all of that, they can tap into another $90 million,” she said. “That’s over the course of four years. Up until March 31, there’s no cut-off on dollars. If you sign up, you’re going to get funded. We’ve never had a program like that, the government normally never has a program like that, that there’s so much money that if you want to participate, you can. We don’t have to turn away anyone.”

The downside for those who have yet to make contact? As Rieman indicated, there is an expiration date.

“By the end of March, farmers have to make contact with us,” Rieman said. “We can finish the contracts in early April, but we’re telling guys March 31.”

Short of that time limit, Rieman assured the program is simply a win all the way around.

“Whether producers are changing their operation, or they’re already doing the right thing, now they can get paid for it,” Rieman said. “It’s nice that we can help everyone.”

For more information on H2Ohio, contact the Putnam County Soil and Water Conservation District offices at 419-523-5159