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Published: Thursday, 8/14/2014 - Updated: 3 months ago

Ohio offers $150M in loans to upgrade water, sewage plants

Effort to help cities with water issues after toxin emergency in Toledo

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jim Zehringer, Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, speaks about the "Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative" on the Swartz Farm in Perrysburg. Twp today. Jim Zehringer, Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, speaks about the "Ohio Clean Lakes Initiative" on the Swartz Farm in Perrysburg. Twp today.
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The Kasich administration today amplified its support for the agricultural community while highlighting several measures taken to improve the western Lake Erie watershed and the region’‍s main source of drinking water.

Those include a recently approved state law aimed at teaching large crop farmers how to better apply nutrients to their land and helping state officials track their fertilizer purchases. But it also includes some restructured programs and additional money intended to critical water-related infrastructure, primarily water treatment and sewage plants.

Up to $100 million the state had available for sewage work in the form of low-interest loans of 3 percent, for example, will now be made available at zero percent interest.

The bulk of that money comes from the federal Clean Water State Revolving Fund on a fixed formula, based on what Congress approves. It is the largest fund in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‘‍s budget and has been subject to numerous cuts over the past decade as politicians on Capitol Hill have struggled to narrow the federal budget deficit.

But Ohio now will provide zero percent interest for the money it has available. The rate will remain in effect throughout the 20-year life of the loan, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Craig Butler said.

Another $50 million in the form of zero percent interest loans will be made available for improvements to water treatment plants, Gov. John Kasich’‍s office said.

Mr. Butler also said $1 million is being made available to 23 facilities that draw water from Lake Erie for kits and training to test for toxic microcystis algae themselves.

Many now contract from cities such as Toledo and Oregon for testing. Screening kits alone can cost $10,000, Mr. Butler said.

He also said the agency will make its state laboratory near Columbus available for more frequent testing.

The announcements were made on the site of Perrysburg farmer Kris Swartz by Mr. Butler and two other state agency directors, Jim Zehringer, chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resurces, and David Daniels, who heads the Ohio Department of Agriculture. They said they chose the Swartz farm because of that family‘‍s reputation for responsible farming practices.

“Since the day I took office, the first thing I sat down and talked with Gov. Kasich about was water quality,” Mr. Daniels said, reiterating his support for a law created earlier this year from legislation known as Senate Bill 150. “We all take it very seriously.”

Criticized by some as being too heavy on symbolism, Senate Bill 150 nonetheless created the state’‍s first program in which those who apply fertilizers on 50 or more acres of land can be certified and trained in what‘‍s known in the industry as best management practices. Its intent is to create a system which identifies those who make the effort to more responsibly apply nutrients and helps the state of Ohio track fertilizer sales.

Mr. Zehringer said the Ohio DNR also wants farmers to know it has $1.25 million available through restructured programs, half - $625,000 - to help them plant cover crops that can reduce agricultural runoff. The remaining $625,000 is to help them build better field drainage systems to keep as much runoff as they can from entering ditches and streams that flow into the lake.

“Certainly, the events in Toledo did bring the issue more into focus,” Ohio Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowking Green) said. He is a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 150 and authored an amendment earlier this year to the state budget that allowed the region to get another $10 million for western Lake Erie improvement projects, about $6 million of which is going to a research project that was announced in July to help study the viability of alternatives to open-lake disposal of sediment from the Toledo shipping channel.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079 or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.



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