WASHINGTON, D.C.—New federal resources awarded today will help improve water quality at Grand Lake St. Marys. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today announced $1 million in USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) efforts in the Grand Lake St Marys watershed.
“A healthy Grand Lake St Marys is critical to Ohio’s prosperity—and achieving this goal requires a comprehensive strategy. These new resources will allow agricultural producers to utilize the best conservation practices and demonstrate how farmers can contribute to revitalizing the Grand Lake St Marys and the recreation, tourism, and boating industries that it supports,” Brown said. “We know how important these conservation efforts are for improving the water quality at Grand Lake St. Marys—a major economic anchor of Mercer and Auglaize counties. I remain committed to pursuing all possible solutions to restore it.”
According to NRCS Chief Dave White, there is a sizable waiting list of agricultural producers with pending applications for EQIP resources. EQIP offers technical assistance for farmers to plant cover crops, build manure storage facilities, install filter strips, and complete other conservation measures that keep phosphorus out of Grand Lake St Marys. Studies on Grand Lake St. Marys have shown that excess phosphorus loading of the lake has been the primary reason for toxic algae blooms during the past two summers.
In Aug. 2011, Brown announced resources for a methane digester project to reduce nutrient loading associated with toxic algae blooms, like the cyanobacteria, in Grand Lake St. Marys. The funding was awarded by the NRCS Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) program through a competitive process.
Through the CIG program, Quasar will help bring methane digester technology to Grand Lake St. Marys, which has been ravaged by toxic blue - green algae. The algae has left the lake unsafe for swimming, and contributed to a decline in tourism, which has reduced economic activity and local business in the area. In March 2011, Brown urged USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to support the grant application filed by Quasar Energy Group, a northeast Ohio company. Brown’s office also convened stakeholders, including state and federal agencies, community leaders, and rural energy groups, at a roundtable at Battelle.
Methane digestion is a biological process that converts organic matter in manure into a valuable biogas—methane. Methane is a renewable energy that can be used for facility heating and converted to electricity or compressed natural gas (CNG), an alternative motor vehicle fuel. This process reduces nutrients flowing into the lake over time.
With the production of methane from livestock manure, availability of CNG as a motor vehicle fuel could provide lower costs and cleaner air for the community. Installation of methane digestion facilities to manage livestock manure represents an opportunity for the Grand Lake St Marys region to address the environmental problem at the lake itself, but also to move towards a clean energy economy.
Brown, the first Senator from Ohio to serve on the Agriculture Committee in 40 years, has worked during the past three years to secure water quality conservation resources for Grand Lake St. Marys that encourages farmers to use best practices – including cover crops and buffer strips – that, in the long run, will improve health of the lake.
In April 2010, Grand Lake St Marys received $1 million in funding for the creation of buffer strips along creeks running into Grand Lake St. Marys and for the planting of cover crops. In February 2008, U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded funding to help farmers in Auglaize and Mercer counties participate in a special demonstration project aimed at keeping nutrients and organic material out of area water supplies.