By: Peggy Hall, Asst. Professor, Agricultural & Resource Law, Ohio State University
A pair of companion bi-partisan bills just introduced in the Ohio Senate and Ohio House of Representatives would provide significant funding to help meet Ohio’s goal of reducing phosphorus loading by 20% in Lake Erie by 2020. The sponsors of S.B. 299 are Senators Gardner (R-Bowling Green) and O’Brien (D-Bazetta) and Representatives Arndt (R-Port Clinton) and Patterson (D-Jefferson) are the sponsors of H.B. 643. The legislation is a “targeted funding solution bill,” according to Rep. Arndt, “providing both [general revenue funds] and capital funding for a variety of strategies that scientists, Lake Erie advocates, agriculture leaders, and others believe can help achieve our phosphorus reduction goals.”
The proposed legislation includes the following:
▪ A “Soil and Water Conservation Support Fund” of up to $3.5 million to support county soil and water conservation districts in the Western Lake Erie Basin for staffing and to assist in soil testing, nutrient management plan development that would also include manure transformation and manure conversion technologies, enhanced filter strips and water management.
▪ A “Soil and Water Phosphorus Program” of up to $20 million, to be established by the Ohio Department of Agriculture to reduce phosphorus in sub-watersheds of the Western Lake Erie Basin. The bill requires that the programs be supported with the purchase of equipment for subsurface placement of nutrients into the soil; nutrient placement based on geographic information system data; soil testing; variable rate technology; manure transformation and manure conversion technologies; tributary monitoring and water management and edge-of-field drainage management.
▪ $3.5 million for Ohio State’s Sea Grant—Stone Laboratory on Lake Erie to construct new research lab space and purchase in-lake monitoring equipment.
▪ Up to $10 million for the Healthy Lake Erie Initiative to reduce open lake disposal of dredged materials into Lake Erie.
Both bills were immediately referred to committee, with proponent testimony heard before the Senate Finance Committee on May 15 and the House Finance Committee on May 16. The Lake Erie Foundation, Nature Conservancy, Ohio Environmental Council, Soil and Water Conservation Districts and Ohio Farm Bureau testified in support of the legislation.
The legislators also introduced Senate Joint Resolution 6 and House Joint Resolution 16 on May 9 that propose to submit a constitutional amendment authorizing the issuance of up to $1 billion in general obligation bonds to pay for the Lake Erie clean water improvements for voter approval at the November 6, 2018 general election. The resolutions were also referred to the respective finance committees but were not on the committees’ recent agendas.