Federal action could be on the horizon if high nutrient levels continue to show up in ditches, rivers and streams that make up the Western Lake Erie Basin.The other major cause being sewage, either from waste water treatment plants from cities and septic systems in more rural and suburban areas.
While Indiana is making progress to reduce runoff of nitrogen and phosphorus, one agriculture official warned that "the long arm of the EPA" could come down in a big way if nothing is done to stop the current trend.
While there are many possible causes for the high nitrogen and phosphorus levels in the watershed, Ted McKinney, director of the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, said EPA is looking very closely at agriculture.
He urged farmers to adopt conservation practices like cover crops, filter strips and grass swales, in an effort to improve water quality in the region.You're right. It's coming. But getting ahead of it may not be optimal behavior. The EPA is not likely to give you credit for advances you take one your own; they're going to just take that as the baseline and demand greater cuts. That's how it worked in the Chesapeake.
"Let's get after that in a major way, or we're going to have our head handed to us," he said, speaking to farmers last Thursday during the annual Northeast Purdue Ag Center Field Day in Columbia City.
EPA is already regulating farming activity in the Chesapeake Bay region of Maryland. Crop farmers there face what's known as a TMDL, or Total Maximum Daily Load.
McKinney said a TMDL is a cap on the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that can be applied to crop fields.
In the Chesapeake Bay watershed, the EPA tells farmers how much fertilizer they can use and when they can apply it.
McKinney said that's not how most farmers prefer to do business.
"We just missed, by a hair, the long arm of EPA putting a Total Maximum Daily Load on that Western Lake Erie Basin, which includes everything going up the Maumee (River)," he said.