State Reps. John Patterson (D-Jefferson) and Michael Sheehy (D-Oregon) today announced a legislative proposal aimed at protecting and improving Ohio’s water quality through the establishment of the Ohio Water Quality Improvement Program. Under the program, farmers would be incentivized to conserve environmentally sensitive agricultural land rather than use the property for farming or ranching.
“Ensuring safe and clean drinking water for the citizens of Ohio is of the utmost importance,” said Patterson. “While we have made great strides in working with the farming community to fight agricultural runoff, as a state we can and should do more. The Ohio Water Quality Improvement Program gives us the opportunity to partner with Ohio’s farmers to strategically conserve farmland in order to promote healthier streams, rivers and estuaries.”
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.
“This legislation is an important next step in the continuing effort to maximize crop production, boost farm profit and improve the long term water quality in the state of Ohio,” said Sheehy. “The Ohio Water Quality Improvement Program will give our agricultural partners the viable option of using their land to help reduce pollutants and excessive nutrients from leaching into our streams and rivers, thus protecting our watersheds.”
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.