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Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Ohio (Section 319I - 1994)

Ohio is making great strides to improve and protect water resources through its nonpoint source pollution control program. The successful program is voluntary, geographically (watershed, aquifer) focused, and involves multiple local, state, and federal agencies working toward a common goal. Ohio is currently delineating and prioritizing watersheds as a foundation for a future comprehensive watershed management program.

Equipment Buy Down Promotes Adoption of Conservation Tillage

In the early 1970s, phosphorus was identified as the major cause of eutrophication, or premature aging, in Lake Erie. Immediate efforts were focused on reducing point source loadings of phosphorus from municipal sewage treatment plants.

Between 1972 and 1982, phosphorus loadings from municipal sources were reduced by 85 percent. However, further reductions in phosphorus entering Lake Erie would have to come from nonpoint sources, specifically agriculture. As a result, Ohio adopted a phosphorus reduction strategy for Lake Erie with an annual nonpoint source phosphorus reduction goal of 1,390 metric tons, with 900 metric tons to come from agriculture. Ohio's Maumee River Basin is the single largest contributor of phosphorus and sediment to Lake Erie. It contributes 46 percent of the phosphorus and 37 percent of the sediment entering Lake Erie, while providing only 3 percent of the inflow. In 1985, the International Joint Commission identified the Maumee River as one of 43 areas of concern in the Great Lakes Basin.

The Ohio portion of the Maumee River Basin drains about 4,850 square miles (3.1 million acres) and covers portions of 17 counties. Cropland covers about 80 percent of the basin land surface. While erosion rates are - relatively low, the soils are high in clay. Clay particles suspend easily in water and have chemical and physical properties that strongly adsorb phosphorus, thus creating a major water quality problem for Lake Erie.

Therefore, an interagency team of representatives from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, SCS, and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources developed a strategy to address agricultural runoff. This strategy was based on recommendations from the Maumee River Remedial Action Plan (RAP) Stage II report entitled the State of Ohio Phosphorus Reduction Strategy for Lake Erie, Ohio's NPS - Management Program, and local phosphorus reduction strategies from county phosphorus reduction committees in the Maumee River Basin. These documents identified land use practices--specifically conservation tillage and winter cover residue--as the best way to maximize sediment and phosphorus reduction in the shortest time. Consequently, the implementation strategy emphasized "buying down" or lowering the cost a farmer pays for farm equipment that leaves more plant residue on the soil surface. In October 1991, the Maumee RAP Implementation Strategy was approved as a demonstration project and awarded a $641,000 section 319 grant. The plan included targeting critical areas; listing residue enhancing equipment and land treatments approved for cost share, maximum cost-share amounts, and minimum acreage requirements for each cost-share item; and criteria for applicant selection. SWCDs designed programs to address local concerns, received a portion of the grant based on the percent of targeted cropland in the county, and were permitted to approve or disapprove applications from local farmers. This involvement created the essential element of local project ownership. A joint advisory board, consisting of one representative from each county in the basin, provided local input and direction. It also balanced individual county agendas with the larger goal of improving water quality in the entire basin. After the first year, the three-year project was clearly experiencing widespread acceptance by the agricultural community and was well on its way to exceeding estimated water quality benefits. Some 513 farmers from 15 counties voluntarily participated, committing an average of $10,000 each in pollution control equipment. Farmers received approximately $641,000 in equipment cost-share payments, which generated over $5 million of matching funds. Table 5-2 presents a snapshot of the project after its first year.

The high number of farmers volunteering to participate and the large amount of local matching funds indicate that farmers are willing to shoulder more of the costs of pollution prevention and abatement programs. Moreover, this project demonstrates that a limited supply of federal dollars can be used to focus the resources of many farmers on a common goal to achieve significant water quality improvements and stimulate rural economies.

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