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Ohio and Iowa water quality issues: Eerily similar

Article cover photo
Kirk Merritt, executive director of the Ohio Soybean Council and Ohio Soybean Association, says that Ohio's farmers support a combination of voluntary and regulatory efforts to improve water quality. (Photo: Joseph Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Matthew Wilde, ISA senior writer and Joseph Murphy, senior communications manager

Phosphorous-driven algae blooms in Lake Erie that threaten public health and a multi-million-dollar tourism industry in Ohio is the catalyst behind tough decisions the past two years to improve water quality, according to state officials and agricultural leaders in the Buckeye State. 

The Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) is in Ohio this week learning how lawmakers, environmental officials and agriculture stakeholders are taking part in a statewide effort to improve water quality. The purpose of the investigative report is to inform Iowa farmers and policymakers about the issue as efforts to improve water quality in the Hawkeye State are underway. 

ISA’s Senior Writer Matthew Wilde and Senior Communications Manager Joseph Murphy are meeting with Ohio soybean staff, farmers, government and environmental officials and tourism industry leaders. Officials shared ongoing voluntary and regulatory measures to reduce nutrient loads entering waterways and the impact on agriculture. 

ISA CEO Kirk Leeds said Iowans can learn from others. 

“As our state continues to work to fully implement the voluntary strategies called for in the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy, having a clearer understanding of what other states have experienced and the approaches they are taking to improve water quality is critically important,” Leeds said. “Fairly or unfairly, the challenges in Ohio have received national coverage and I believe there are lessons to learn from gaining a deeper understanding of how they are moving forward.” 

Here’s a few steps initiated in Ohio, both through voluntary and legislative mandates, to curb water pollution from point and nonpoint sources: 

  • Ohio, Michigan and the Canadian Province of Ontario adopted the Western Lake Erie Basin Collaborative Implementation Plan. It calls for a 20 percent reduction of the total amount of dissolved reactive phosphorous entering Lake Erie’s western basin by 2020 and a 40 percent reduction by 2025. 
  • The Ohio legislature passed a law requiring all farmers and applicators applying fertilizer and manure to more than 50 acres to attend a three-hour certification class every three years. The idea is to inform producers and applicators about the latest agronomic data and research concerning nutrients to keep it on the land and out of the water. 
  • A law was passed that bans application of manure and commercial fertilizer on frozen, snow-covered and/or saturated ground in the Western Lake Erie basin. 

Kirk Merritt, executive director of the Ohio Soybean Association and Ohio Soybean Council, said the state’s 24,000 soybean farmers realize they’re contributing to the state’s water quality issues and they’re stepping up to solve it. 

He said the soybean family supports the combination of voluntary and “reasonable” regulations to achieve the state’s water cleanup goals.  

After the Toledo water scare in 2014 when an algae bloom in Lake Erie essentially shut down the city’s water supply for two days, Merritt said lawmakers made it clear some form of regulation on agriculture was on the horizon. Soybean leaders actively participated in discussions to craft action plans. 

“For organizations like ours, water quality is the top priority,” Merritt said. “It was our job to make sure new regulations were as reasonable as possible and science based. I think our farmer leaders thought the result met that. But we would be very reluctant to consider additional regulation.” 

Although the Iowa legislators failed to pass a comprehensive water quality bill to provide adequate and sustained funding to support the state’s nutrient reduction strategy, Leeds hopes the information gathered in Ohio will assist in future efforts in Iowa.  

“ISA’s commitment to addressing Iowa’s water challenges through the voluntary engagement by Iowa’s farmers gives us a unique perspective to help share this evolving story,” Leeds said. 

The Ohio water quality series will be published in the Iowa Soybean Review summer edition. It will also be found on the newsroom. 

ISA communications examined water quality issues in the Chesapeake Bay — the nation’s largest estuary — in 2015. The Contrasting Currents series can read here:

For permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos contact Aaron Putze at

©2017 Iowa Soybean Association On-Farm Network®. All rights reserved. On-Farm Network® is a registered trademark of the Iowa Soybean Association, Ankeny, IA.Portions of some On-Farm Network trials are paid for in total or in part by the soybean checkoff.

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Iowa Soybean Review

August 2017 Contact Ann Clinton for past publications.