State Reps. John Patterson (D-Jefferson) and Michael Sheehy (D-Oregon) today reintroduced legislation that seeks to protect and improve the state’s water quality by establishing the Ohio Water Quality Improvement Program, which would incentivize farmers to conserve environmentally sensitive agricultural land rather than use the property for farming or ranching. The bill was first introduced in the 131st General Assembly as House Bill 62.
“There’s nothing more important than the health and well-being of our citizens,” said Patterson. “In addition to ensuring safe and clean drinking water, the Ohio Water Quality Program would promote healthier streams, rivers and estuaries across the state. By partnering with Ohio’s farmers, we can strategically conserve farmland and establish a robust agricultural environment.”
If enacted, the bill would require the Ohio Department of Agriculture to establish the Ohio Water Quality Improvement Program. Modeled after the federal Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), agricultural land voluntarily enrolled by farmers in the statewide conservation initiative would be exempt from property taxes. The state would reimburse local communities for any tax revenue lost as a result of the program to ensure public school districts and community services are not adversely affected.
“The Ohio Water Quality Improvement Program offers Ohio’s farmers the viable option of seeking to reduce pollutants and excessive nutrients from leaching into our watersheds,” said Sheehy. “This legislation is the next step in our state’s continued effort to improve long term water quality, without sacrificing Ohio’s crop production or farm profit.”
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the federal Conservation Reserve Program is the largest private-lands conservation program in the United States. Signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, CRP contributes to environmental conservation nationwide through a variety of initiatives.
For example, CRP’s Bottomland Hardwoods Initiative incentivizes farmers to replace cropland adjacent to a stream with certain hardwood trees that help restore wetlands, thereby reducing the risk of downstream flooding and helping improve overall water quality.