For the past twenty years, Ohio has been dealing with a growing water contamination problem caused by algae blooms, leading to the creation of the Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorous Task Force in 2007 and culminating in the Toledo Water Crisis of 2014. Since then, the state has taken a serious look at what is causing the algae blooms plaguing our water supply and have found agricultural runoff to be the biggest contributing factor. In light of that, the newly funded H2Ohio Initiative, introduced by Governor Mike DeWine during his 2019 State the State address, will be providing $30 million in grants to farmers who implement more environmentally-friendly farming practices. The grant program provides funding to farmers in the counties that feed into the Maumee River Watershed and may see expansion to other counties later this year, once the pilot phase is complete. The hope is that by offering these grants we will begin to address the most significant cause of the algae blooms threatening our state’s water supply.
How Farming Contributes to Ohio’s Algae Bloom Crisis
Algae blooms form in warm, shallow waters, during calm weather, when an excess of nutrients (specifically nitrogen and phosphorus) accumulates in the waters, creating an ideal environment for an explosive proliferation of certain bacteria. Though nitrogen and phosphorus occur naturally and are, in fact, essential plant nutrients that serve an important role in the food chain, an excess of these nutrients causes an overpopulation of bacteria that chokes out the oxygen in the water – this is known as eutrophication. Algae blooms not only create oxygen-depleted “dead zones” in water, but they can also be toxic, causing illness or even death to the animals and people who come in contact with them. Through extensive research, the Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force has discovered that most of the nitrogen and phosphorus appearing in Ohio’s waterways comes from agricultural fertilizer runoff. Applied to enrich the soil and increase the crop’s abundance, fertilizers find their way into rivers and waterways when the crops are unable to take up the nutrients applied and the excess is carried away by rain water or finds its way into the groundwater. Different crops, planted in different soils with different terrains, will require different levels of fertilizer. Without adequate time or resources to determine each crop’s specific fertilizer needs, farmers tend to settle somewhere in the middle, applying enough fertilizer to ensure a bountiful crop while limiting the amount of fertilizer that is carried off. Unfortunately, the result is often the over-application of fertilizer that leads to an excess of nutrients finding their way into Ohio’s waterways.
How H2Ohio Grants for Farmers Will Combat Algae Blooms
Because the land use in Northwest Ohio is predominantly agricultural, with 60-80% being devoted to farmland, the Maumee and Sandusky River Watersheds are often the first to experience algae blooms in the spring and summer. Beginning with the watershed most significantly affected by Lake Erie’s algae blooms, H2Ohio will provide grant money to farmers to enable them to invest in 10 different agricultural interventions aimed at reducing nutrient runoff. These interventions include soil testing, edge-of-field buffers, drainage management, conservation crop rotation, as well as new technologies that would enable farmers to inject the fertilizer into the land, rather than spreading it on the surface, thereby drastically reducing the amount of fertilizer used as well as agricultural runoff. In partnering with the Ohio Agriculture Conservation Initiative, H2Ohio grants will be providing the financial support needed for farmers who are not only keenly aware of the environmental impact of their farming practices but also looking to improve their practices to protect the environment and the state’s water supply.
While agricultural runoff is the largest contributing factor to the algae blooms plaguing our state’s waterways, H2Ohio is also focused on the impact of outdated and inefficient septic systems. Is the grass above your septic system already in full bloom? It may be time to schedule a service visit to ensure your system is functioning properly.