U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, hopes a provision he put in the latest farm bill will help Ohio obtain millions of dollars of additional conservation funds designed to help the state fight harmful algal blooms.
Brown is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and says he's the only Ohioan to sit on the panel in more than four decades.
He also was a member of the farm bill's conference committee — the select band of lawmakers charged with hammering out the final version of the bill.
Brown says he helped create the Regional Conservation Partnership Program, which provides $1.2 billion over five years to provide for clean soil and water.
Ohio has joined two other states, Michigan and Indiana, in applying for $20 million to aid efforts to clean up Lake Erie, said Meghan Dubyak, a spokeswoman for Brown. Ohio would get about $13 million of that, she said. The application is called the The Western Lake Erie Basin Phosphorus Reduction Initiative.
It's not certain yet that Ohio will get the money, although it's hard to see how federal officials could turn Ohio down with offending common sense, particularly after Toledo's recent water emergency.
Brown has made it clear he wants to see Ohio get the grant. He spoke this week to Tom Vilsack, the secretary of agriculture in President Obama's cabinet.
While the proposal has advanced to serious consideration, the Department of Agriculture won't make a final decision on the tri-state application until later this year, Dubyak said. The Department of Agriculture, however, has designated the Great Lakes as one of eight "Critical Conservation Areas" around the country.
Dubyak said that if Ohio gets the money, it would be used to work with farmers and identify sources of the nutrients that feed algal blooms and to apply other conservation practices.
Farm officials want to take steps to reduce phosphorus going into the lake, so they would use the money for steps such as encouraging farmers to plant grass buffer strips, but they also are interested in new ideas, said Chris Coulon, public affairs specialist for the Columbus office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service, a Department of Agriculture agency.
"We're looking for innovation," Coulson said.
The Department of Agriculture also is interested in monitoring the results of conservation techniques, Coulon said.
"We are trying to get down to what is working and what is not," Coulon said.