Governor John Kasich signed an executive order earlier this month naming eight watersheds in distress due to toxic algal blooms in Lake Erie. If the The Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission decides to move forward with the order, it would mean tougher regulations on about 6,500 farms, which Kasich said are feeding the algal blooms through fertilizer, manure and phosphorus runoff.
The eight watersheds the executive order named as distressed include: Platter Creek, Little Flat Rock Creek, Little Auglaize River, Eagle Creek, Auglaize River, Blanchard River, St. Mary's River and the Ottawa River.
The executive order would require farmers to implement — sometimes costly — nutrient management plans that include rules for the use, storage and handling of nutrients on their land.
“This is just requiring farmers to figure out a way to manage their land in a more environmentally friendly way," Kasich said in a press conference announcing the order. "I believe the farmers want to do that. Sometimes some of them don’t know exactly what that means, so to put a plan in place where we can help fund them on whatever it takes to do that makes a lot of sense."
According to Kasich and his team, the order would keep nutrients feeding toxic algal blooms from polluting Lake Erie.
"If we are able to reduce our phosphorus loading and our input into Lake Erie, the time to recover and see a reduction in these harmful algal blooms will be almost immediate," Sarah Orlando, the program manager for Ohio Clean Marinas, said.
Farmers argued the executive order is targeting a problem that's not completely understood and one they've been working to fix.
News 5 traveled to Hancock County, just one part of the state where farmers who would be impacted, to talk with a sixth generation family of farmers. The Stateler family has a livestock and grain farm in McComb.
In 2016, the Sateler Family Farms became a Blanchard River Demonstration farm, meaning they are one of three farms in Ohio testing conservation systems and techniques to reduce runoff that feeds algae and impacts drinking water, making people and animals sick. Their ultimate goal is to improve the quality of our Great Lakes.
So far, the Stateler's are pleased with their results.
"When you put testing equipment there that you don't have any control over, it's going to tell you whether you're right, wrong or indifferent, and so far we found out that we were right," Duane Stateler said.
But like thousands of other farmers, he is not pleased with the executive order Gov. Kasich signed.
"Is the general consensus among the agricultural community that the governor doesn't understand the problem?" News 5 asked.
"I think that's a big part of it," Duane answered.
According to Duane, with everything they've already done and are doing as a demonstration site, the new rules wouldn't change anything. One of his concerns is that the executive order doesn't address what is already working for them.
"What we are doing here on our farm is using water management, water gates and water control structures to control water leaving the farm. And the other was cover crops. And none of those are pertained in the rules or anything," he said.
Duane's son Anthony said their tests and results don't happen overnight, and they're still learning.
"Instead of just tossing millions and millions of dollars at something, make sure that there might be one million in the research that's done here in the next five years that is able to take care of 60 percent of our problem," Anthony Stateler said.
They're asking The Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission to come out for a visit before it moves forward with Kasich's order — a visit the Statelers said they tried to set up long before pen hit paper on the executive order.
"If you're not going to come out and see exactly what is happening here in your own state and the things we are doing, making strides to better the lake, then don't throw agriculture under the bus 100 percent on it," Anthony Stateler said.