State to offer Ohio farmers grants to reduce field runoff

By MARC KOVAC @ohiocapitalblog mkovac@dixcom.com Published:

COLUMBUS -- Farmers in Defiance and 26 other counties will be eligible for new grants to plant cover crops, install drainage devices and otherwise reduce field runoff, under one of several new initiatives announced by state officials to deal with algal blooms.

A total of $1.25 million will be available through soil and water conservation districts as part of the Lake Erie Nutrient Reduction Program, targeting counties in the northwest portion of the state.

"This program's going to start today," said Jim Zehringer, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. "Farmers in almost 30 counties can call their local soil and water conservation districts up and get information on how to sign up. ... We anticipate planting over 25,000 acres of cover crops yet this fall and installing control drainage devices. That helps reduce runoff of nutrients in our streams."

During a morning press conference near Toledo and a subsequent conference call with reporters, state officials also outlined $150 million in no-interest loans for wastewater and drinking water facility improvements and other efforts to protect water quality and $2 million in research funds to develop ways to deal with algae issues.

The funding comes after an algal bloom in Lake Erie left hundreds of thousands of Toledo area residents without drinking water for several days, prompting increased calls from environmental advocates for tougher regulations and additional efforts to reduce fertilizer, manure and other potential runoff into waterways.

Lawmakers in the Ohio House are planning committee hearings on the issue, with an eye toward passing related legislation after the November general election.

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