Sunday, February 06, 2011

Nutrient Pollution Management in 2011: New Regulations

Dr. Larry Antosch, Senior Director, Program Innovation and Environmental Policy, Ohio Farm Bureau Federation presented "Water Quality and Agricultural Nutrient Management – Many Forces Converge" to finish up the seminar series theme of Water Quality here in the School of Environment and Natural Resources. Dr. Antosch is well-placed to provide a comprehensive and up-to-date view of nutrient management and water quality, having worked in the field for 30 years, first for the EPA and now for the FBF, which recently sued the EPA over pending nutrient restrictions in the Chesapeake Bay (CB) watershed. Dr. Antosh pointed out that since Ohio is in the CB "airshed" (some of our air pollution is deposited in the CB watershed) these regulations could impact us directly. They could also impact Ohio indirectly as EPA gears up for an even bigger watershed nutrient reduction program for the entire Mississippi.

In Dr. Antosh's opinion, some of the regulatory impetus is misplaced, because science does not have all the answers yet. For example, the increased of dissolved Phosphorous (rather than particulate phosphorous) entering Lake Erie and causing harmful algal blooms, is a mystery. Farmers or cities? Which techniques could best eliminate excess nutrients? Some have even pointed to no-till as a possible source, because nutrients are applied to the surface rather than mixed in.

Although Dr. Antosch emphesized the uncertain nature of water quality science, I believe there is enough information to act today. Several simple examples come to mind: (1) Regulations against applying manure and fertilizer in the winter, when plants are not growing and hence don't absorb any of the nutrients; (2) Existing steps to eliminate phosphorous fertilization of residential lawns; (3) Creating new wetlands to filter the runoff that does occur.

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