Saturday, September 8, 2012

Why Water Quality Is Important To Me

Ever since I was a little kid, I have loved water!  I have very happy memories of visiting the beaches of North Carolina with Auntie, of fishing on Lake Erie with our family friends Whitey & Nancy, and of sailing in the waters off the Florida Keys with my father.  Even though I detested Saturday morning swim lessons at the YMCA that kept me away from my beloved cartoons, my mother's insistence that I know how to swim was definitely beneficial.  My favorite waters, though, are the mountain streams that I have visited on trips out West.  I can recall watching my Grandfather bend down and trail his fingers through the cold, clear waters of numerous notable streams, and then lift a handful of water to his lips -- savoring it like the finest nectar.  I have adopted the same habit, and was delighted to be able to take some of girlfriends to visit those places during our trip this past summer: Two Ocean Pass (where Two Ocean Creek divides and eventually reaches both the Atlantic & the Pacific) and Lemhi Pass (where the headwaters of the Missouri River & the Columbia River start).

Places like Two Ocean Pass and Lemhi Pass appear in so many treasured memories for me, but water also has a very practical value in my life.  As a farmer, water is needed in so many ways for my operation.  I rely on our well to furnish the drinking water that the animals need.  We had a major storm at the end of June that knocked out the electric on the farm for a few days.  I was fortunate enough to be loaned a generator, otherwise I could not have run the electric pump that supplies our water.  Without a reliable water source, I could not raise livestock.  Even though I am a livestock farmer, the current drought is also impacting my operation.  Less rain results in a smaller hay crop, which in turn causes hay prices to climb.  Since I purchase the hay that I feed my animals through the winter, my expenses will increase.  In addition, the drought meant that the summer pastures I rely on had less forage for my animals.  Most summers I feed just a little bit of hay to the animals; this year I never stopped feeding hay.

I am not unique to the farm community -- water is a very important factor for all farmers!  Water quality issues are a prime topic of discussion within the farm community.  Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a symposium on livestock issues.  There was a panel discussion on water quality featuring the Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Director of the Ohio EPA, and the Director of the Department of Agriculture.  These gentlemen are very knowledgeable on agricultural concerns and understand that for farms to flourish, the environment must be healthy.  Ohio has faced many water quality concerns in my lifetime -- from the difficulties in Lake Erie during my childhood to the current challenges with algae blooms in Grand Lake St. Mary's.

I was delighted to hear all three Directors discuss the importance of perspective and collaboration in solving water quality concerns.  The media and a variety of environmental activists have far too often labelled farmers as prime contributors to the problems.  As a farmer, I am actually rather proud of the response of the farm community to these challenges!  Farmers have voluntarily stepped up to create nutrient management plans to regulate the handling and application of manure.  Opportunities to protect waterways on farms have been embraced as farmers have created buffer strips, monitored the impact of grazing, and tested soil nutrient levels.  Through its policy development process, the Ohio Farm Bureau has encouraged farm families  to become engaged in protecting water quality through such initiatives.  Far too often, however, farms are easy to blame for water quality concerns -- without looking at the impact of all Ohioans.

During the panel discussion at yesterday's symposium, I was amazed to learn from the Director of the Ohio EPA that roughly 8 billion gallons of raw sewage is released by municipalities into the Western Basin of Lake Erie EVERY YEAR!  It can be quite expensive to update treatment facilities and drainage lines, thus municipalities often operate under the idea that it is more cost effective to treat the problem later than to prevent it now.  Along with older drainage lines, heavy rains can contribute to the problem by washing chemicals into sewers from lawns, golf courses, and other treated areas.  Listening to the Directors discuss these concerns, it illustrated that we are all a potential part of water quality problems, but we are all a potential part of the solution as well.

Farmers face many challenges that we cannot control: droughts, floods, animal and plant diseases, market instability.  We keenly understand the need to protect our natural resources, especially our waterways.  I want to be able to have a reliable water source for my animals, so that I can keep farming for the rest of my life.  I want to contribute to protecting our waters, so that I can enjoy a clean water source for my own use.  And I especially want to see all Americans embrace the opportunity to protects our waters, so that I can continue to enjoy their beauty and share my favorite riparian spots with more of my friends!

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