Friday, February 9th, 2018
State fines farmer $500 for violation
By Nancy Allen
The state has issued Grand Lake Watershed farmer Matt Bruns of Celina a violation and $500 civil penalty for violating the distressed watershed rules, Mercer County Soil and Water Conservation District board members learned at Thursday's meeting.
This is the first time the Ohio Department of Agriculture has imposed a fine for a distressed watershed rule violation. The state received the authority to issue civil penalties only last year. When county SWCDs were under the authority of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, no civil penalties existed for agricultural pollution violations. Among violations are manure and silage leachate entering state waters. On Dec. 28, 2015, authority over SWCDs was transferred from ODNR to the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
Tom Rampe of the Lake Improvement Association asked for an update on the matter during the meeting. Board members first reviewed the incident report at its Jan. 11 meeting and referred it to the state for possible enforcement action.
Bruns received the state violation notice via certified mail on Feb. 2, ODA spokesman Brett Gates said, adding that Bruns has until March 5 to request a hearing to dispute the finding.
The SWCD report states that Bruns applied cattle manure to ground when application is banned and did not follow setbacks from an open ditch on the south side of Brockman Road east of Chickasaw in Marion Township. Bruns reportedly said he had made a number of manure applications to the site during the previous two to three weeks. He reportedly said he had most recently applied several loads of manure to the area on Dec. 15 and applied one more load on Dec. 16 that he had been unable to apply the previous day after his tractor had a flat tire.
The distressed watershed rules ban manure application between Dec. 15 and March 1 unless the landowner receives state permission. Outside these dates manure can be applied only if it is injected or incorporated within 24 hours of application. Bruns reportedly said the manure had been surface applied over several weeks starting on Nov. 20 and ending on Dec. 16 to several harvested soybean fields.
Rampe then asked if state officials had informed SWCD officials of other complaints investigated by SWCD and forwarded to the state. Hawk last September asked Kevin Elder, director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Department of Livestock Environmental Permitting, if the state would inform SWCD office of the results from investigations into improper manure application complaints sent to state officials. She said she has not received a firm response but plans to contact Elder again.
"I want to touch base with them and see what our protocol is going to be as far as sharing reports," Hawk said. "I think we are going to continue to get those questions at board meetings so I want a clear understanding, maybe in writing, on how to handle these in the future."
On Jan. 18, 2011, the state designated the local watershed distressed after humans and animals in 2010 were sickened by algal toxins in Grand Lake. This triggered new rules for watershed farmers, including mandatory nutrient-management plans and soil tests, banning manure application between Dec. 15 and March 1 and restricting manure application to meet new soil phosphorus levels.
Board members on Thursday also learned that a Mercer SWCD-sponsored resolution to prevent misuse of federal conservation funds and structures built using those funds has failed.
Local soil and water officials presented the resolution during the National Association of Conservation Districts annual meeting in January in Nashville, Tennessee. The state delegate body of Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts in February 2017 endorsed the resolution.
"People agreed it was a problem, but agreed NRCS (Natural Resources Conservation Service) did not have the resources or legal authority to enforce it after EQIP contracts expired," Hawk said.
The resolution would have authorized the USDA's NRCS to fine and collect refunds when producers use structures and buildings financed with Environmental Quality Incentives Program funds for anything unrelated to manure management.
EQIP funds help farmers pay to install practices designed to stem runoff from manure that can pollute water.
The resolution states that a farmer must use the structure as intended for the life of the practice rather than the life of the contract. Contracts typically span 3-6 years while the lifespan of structures are typically 10-15 years, leaving significant time when NRCS has no authority over structures built with its funds, the resolution says. If it had been approved at the national level, the resolution could have become a new NRCS guideline, Hawk said.
Local NRCS and SWCD officials have said they have received complaints about producers who had received federal funds to construct dry-stack manure storage buildings and then later used them to store farm equipment or house livestock.
The resolution would have covered any structure installed using EQIP funds, including feed lot covers and holding ponds. Local officials have received the most complaints about misuse of dry-stack manure storage buildings, Heckler said.
Though the resolution failed, board member Theresa Howick said many at the federal meeting agreed with its intent.
"They just felt like it couldn't be enforced," Howick said.
Board members also reviewed an invalid manure pollution complaint at State Route 29 east of Burrville Road in the Wabash River Watershed. A message reporting the incident was left at the SWCD office over the weekend and the message was retrieved on Jan. 22. Pen pack manure from a calf operation had been applied to a cornstalk field while the ground was snow-covered and frozen, according to a report. Temperatures rose over the weekend and most of the snow had melted off by the time the investigation had begun.
Several water samples were taken from the outlet tile and from water pooled in a grassed waterway in the field. All tested less than 1 part per million for ammonia. A reading of 13 ppm is considered chronic toxicity to aquatic life and 1 ppm is considered normal, SWCD officials have said. About 180 tons of manure were applied to about 13 acres. Setbacks from Beaver Creek and the grass waterway varied between 30 to 90 feet, and no runoff to waters of the state was found, the report indicates.
Also during Thursday's meeting board members,
• learned that an all-ag annual meeting for the Mercer SWCD, Farm Service Agency, OSU Extension and Farm Bureau will be held Sept. 25 at the Coldwater American Legion hall.
• set the next board meeting at 8:30 a.m. March 8.
Outside manure application ban dates of Dec. 15 and March 1, if ground is frozen and/or snow-covered, manure can be applied only if it is injected or incorporated within 24 hours of application. The error was made in reporting.