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Manure use restrictions sought to combat lake algae

Special to the Legal News

Published: September 16, 2014

A Northwest Ohio lawmaker is renewing a call for tighter run-off regulations through House Bill 611.

The proposed legislation, sponsored by Rep. Michael Sheehy, of Oregon, Ohio, would adjust standards for manure application.

Under the bill, no person would be permitted to apply manure when the top two inches of soil are saturated with rain or snowmelt, when there is more than a 50 percent chance of rain or more than a half inch within 24 hours or on frozen or snow-covered soil.

An emergency application of manure to frozen or snow-covered soil would be allowed only according to procedures in Natural Resources Conservation Service Conservation Practice Standard Nutrient Management Code.

Sheehy, a Democrat, said the measure is designed to help reduce toxic algae bloom growths by preventing phosphorus-laden run-off from reaching the streams and rivers that flow to Ohio’s lakes.

He said phosphorus leads to an increase in the severity of the algal blooms and consequent microcystin levels that plague Ohio’s inland lakes and Lake Erie.

He noted that earlier this month, 400,000 Ohioans had no access to water due to potentially harmful levels of microcystin found in the drinking water directly resultant of the algal blooms found in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

The concentration of microcystin in the basin had surpassed World Health Organization thresholds and many residents in Lucas, Wood and Fulton counties were advised not to consume the water.

In a statement issued just before HB 611 was introduced into the Ohio General Assembly, Sheehy urged lawmakers to support any efforts to reduce run-off and “stop the growth of toxic algal blooms from creating a cycle of public health crises along the Lake Erie shoreline.”

“This particular bloom isn’t expected to fully mature until September, so we must expedite our discussions of how to manage our state’s most precious natural resources and keep our citizens out of danger,” he said.

A bill summary provided by Alexis Miller, Sheehy’s legislative aide, notes that the Ohio Phosphorus Task Force II report and the International Joint Commission that oversees the boundary waters of the United States and Canada both call for ending the practice of applying manure to frozen or snow-covered ground.

“The practice is a major cause of phosphorus pollution, which is a leading contributor to the formation of algal blooms,” the summary reads. “The Natural Resources Conservation Service, a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, already prohibits the land application of manure on frozen ground for people enrolled in its programs.”

The summary also states that beginning on Dec. 1 of each year, a person that intends to apply manure to land would have to ensure the availability of sufficient storage for manure for at least 120 days in a storage facility that is designed to prevent discharges to surface and ground water.

The bill’s provisions would not apply to facilities capable of producing less than 350 tons of manure each year.

Sheehy’s statement noted that in April the lawmaker offered a similar proposal to Senate Bill 150, a bill aimed at reducing the amount of phosphorus in the streams and lakes of Ohio by creating a fertilizer application certification for farmers.

While Sheehy’s proposal failed to gain enough support to be included in the measure, SB 150, sponsored by Republican Sens. Cliff Hite and Bob Peterson, was signed into law in May. Its provisions were effective yesterday.

“Ultimately, SB 150 does not include manure in its definition of fertilizer and therefore fails to include the impact of manure on the Lake Erie watershed,” Sheehy said.

HB 611 has gained partisan support from Democratic Reps. Teresa Fedor, Michael Ashford, Mike Foley, Nickie Antonio, Dale Mallory, Robert Hagan, John Carney and Chris Redfern.

The bill is awaiting a committee assignment.

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