The purpose of this project is to provide the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with the feasibility of enacting statewide legislation requiring the installation and maintenance of vegetative filter strips along the state’s waterways. A thorough analysis of possible management plans is performed to select the most viable and efficient strategy for implementation. Background The predominant source of water pollution in the United States is agriculture (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Agriculture: cause and victim of water pollution).
Modern agricultural operations and practices contribute to sedimentation and pollution in streams, creeks, rivers, lakes, and groundwater, which affects plants, animals, humans, and wildlife. When nitrogen oxides, phosphorous and other nutrients and chemicals, found in fertilizers and pesticides are applied in farmlands, they runoff into surface waters or leech into groundwater (The economic and science group, Agricultural pollution). High levels of nutrients in water bodies cause eutrophication, which adversely impacts the aquatic ecosystem (US Environmental Protection Agency, The sources, and solutions).
The excess water washed away from farmlands carries the topsoil and deposits them in the riverbeds. Other than polluting the waterbody, sedimentation increases the risk of inundation by reducing the water depth and altering the flow pattern (USEPA, What is sedimentation). Various measures such as conservation tillage, subsurface drip irrigation system technique, etc., were proposed and practiced to mitigate the detrimental effects of agricultural pollution. However, the installation of filter strips along the waterways proved to be more feasible and effective to control nonpoint agricultural source pollutants.
Since the performance of filter strips depends on the slope, soil and climatic factors of the locations, the size, and type of vegetation must be altered accordingly. Vegetative filter zones reduce the concentrations from 72 to 100 percent of commonly used pesticides such as isoproturon, diflufenican, lindane, etc., and around 50 percent of sediments (US National Research Council, 2000). Considering the advantages of planting buffer zones, the state of Minnesota has implemented a ‘buffer law’ which requires the installation of fifty feet of perennial vegetation along lakes, rivers, and streams (Minnesota’s State Portal, Minnesota buffer law). States like New Jersey, Illinois, Kentucky, etc. also have legislations mandating this practice. Ohio plans to follow suit and increase the presence of vegetative filter strips along its waterways to improve the quality of water and curb agricultural pollution. Collaboration and consensus among legislators, administrators, and stakeholders are essential to effectively identify, install and monitor the suitable type of vegetative filter strip for any particular location. Farmers, landowners, and experts from varied fields, including agriculture, ecology, geology, geography, chemistry, engineering, etc., need to work together.
As a first step, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intends to investigate management plans to increase the use of vegetative filter strips, to identify a feasible strategy to establish and monitor appropriate vegetative filter strips along its public waterways. Problem definition Pollution in water bodies, caused predominantly by agricultural runoff containing fertilizers and pesticides, impairs the health of humans, plants, animals, and other organisms, and ultimately disturbs the balance of the ecosystem. It is regarded as a major threat that impacts all sectors of the community. Installation of vegetative filter strips along waterways has proved to be an effective and viable method to control and prevent agricultural pollution in water bodies. Considering the benefits of using vegetative filter strips, the Ohio EPA wishes to establish baseline measures to evaluate the feasibility of implementing statewide legislation to install vegetative filter strips along public waterways in the state. Goals To identify and outline a suitable management plan to increase the use of vegetative filter strips along Ohio’s public waterways. Scope and boundaries To conduct a feasibility study on the implementation of a management plan to install and maintain filter strips, within a year. Agricultural lands abutting the public waterways within the Ohio jurisdictional boundaries are considered for this project. Variation in the topography, soil and climatic factors of each region influences the establishment of vegetative filter strips. Employment of personnel and purchase of equipment for the feasibility study will be determined by the funds present with the Ohio EPA. Stakeholders Legislators, administrators, and stakeholders – farmers, landowners, and experts from varied fields, including agriculture, ecology, geology, geography, chemistry, engineering, etc. Objectives and Study design
1) Determine the methodology for installing vegetative filter strips
2) Determine the federal, state, and local regulations for implementing vegetative filter strips along waterways
3) Assess the management plans implemented by other states
4) Survey the farmers and landowners to determine their views on implementing management plans to increase the use of filter strips
5) Estimate the total area along the waterways in Ohio where filter strips are to be installed • Collect recent records from state and federal agencies and data from research institutions such as universities. • Use GIS applications. • Conduct land surveys along Ohio’s public waterways by employing technicians.
6) Develop a set of management alternatives based on public input, regulatory restrictions, and the type of pollutants in the water bodies
1) Provision of incentives to farmers and landowners for implementing vegetative filter strips along Ohio public waterways. The Ohio Department of Agriculture and the Internal Revenue Service can work together to offer a lifetime concession on taxes exerted on the property, agricultural operations, etc. to farmers and landowners who install vegetative filter strips on their land. When there is a reasonable amount deducted from their taxes, the stakeholders will be motivated to install and maintain filter strips. The EPA can inspect the quality of filter strips of each land every year to renew the concession contracts. However, the timeline taken to implement this strategy will take more than a year as the EPA, IRS, and Ohio Agricultural Department have to collaborate and come to a consensus. Also, the success of this strategy depends completely on the percent of taxes waived to the landowners.
2) Purchase of vegetative filter strip lands by the government The Ohio EPA and Agricultural Department can recommend the federal government purchase and maintain the area along the waterways which host filter strips. This way, the installation and maintenance of the filter strips in Ohio can be monitored effectively. However, the costs for purchasing all the land along the public waterways in Ohio will be an amount not affordable by the federal agency. Even if they set up a management plan to gather the relevant cost, it will take at least five years. Moreover, it will not be welcomed by most landowners as they view it to be undemocratic and forceful.
3) Trading pollution credits with large companies can be approached to pay for controlling agricultural pollution in the water bodies by practicing water trading. Water trading is similar to carbon trading and it allows industries regulated under the clean water act to offset their pollution. As it is less feasible for these companies to meet their legal limits of phosphorous and nitrogen in their wastewater, they pay farmers and landowners to control and reduce the agricultural runoff. To implement this plan, the total amount of pollutants reduced by the presence of filter strips must be calculated to exchange pollution credits. Unfortunately, it is difficult to measure agricultural runoff as it is a nonpoint source.
4) Educate the farmers and landowners about the benefits of vegetative filter strips and provide incentives to initiate the process of installation Educating the farmers on the detrimental effects of agricultural water pollution, and demonstrate how agricultural runoff can reduce the fertility of their land by eroding the topsoil and polluting it, can persuade them to install and maintain filter strips. The EPA and the Ohio Agricultural Department can provide them a small incentive to initiate the process of installation of filter strips. Also, these agencies can assist the farmers to identify and grow economically valuable crops, such as a variety of grasses that can serve as hay for the cattle. The timeline to implement the process will be less than eight months. Implementation
The success of this management plan is high as the farmers commit to it. It is sustainable for the long run as it becomes a tradition. The EPA can inspect the quality of filter strips of each land after its establishment to provide the incentive, and then every year to examine if it meets the specified standards. Pre and post-comparative studies can be done.