"We have heard a lot about this topic from all sides," he said.
For about an hour, task force members, which include environmentalists and representatives of farm advocacy groups, made arguments about how the governor's order should be executed. Each year beginning in July, Lake Erie is plagued by harmful algal blooms, or microcystis cyanobacteria, lasting through October.
The order, which Kasich drafted in July, would designate eight watersheds that drain into the western basin of Lake Erie as being in distress. The designation would set restrictions on farmers' use of fertilizers, which cause the blooms that sometimes turn the water green with floating scum. The algae also can contaminate drinking water and irritate skin.
"We really don't know what the plan is because we don't know what the rules are. In our view, we're putting the cart ahead of the horse," said Kris Swartz, past president of the Ohio Federation of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, who also is a farmer and on the task force.
Swartz raised concerns about funding and how the order would be executed.
"If it fails, it looks bad on all of us," Swartz said, citing a need for more involvement from stakeholders.
Laura Johnson, a task force member and director of the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University, stressed the need for urgency. She said it will take everyone's help to reduce the nutrient loads going into the basin.
"I understand a lot of these things take time, but this is an issue that has been going on a very long time," she said.
The task force received some comments from the public, all of which supported the governor's order and in some cases accused the commission of catering to special interests.
"Why is it taking so long for Ohio to protect its most valuable natural resource? Right now, your commission appears to be the roadblock," wrote Elizabeth Brumbaugh, of Akron.
Tom Price, chairman of the commission, defended its taking its time to enact the order.
"We absolutely are not kicking this can down the road. ... There's a lot of moving parts to this," he said citing the need for ongoing research and data.
Ohio Department of Agriculture Interim Director Tim Derickson, who took over this week after Kasich terminated Director David Daniels, asked commission members to stay focused.
"This is about watersheds in distress. Eight watersheds are what we really are debating. Beyond that is really beyond the scope of what this group is challenged to do. That being said, thank you all for participating in this task force," he said.
At the meeting of the full commission Nov. 1, members will either vote on Kasich's request or return it to the task force for more study.
On Nov. 20 there will be an administrative hearing on a rules package drafted by the commission concerning the watersheds in distress.
It would require all owners, operators, or those who apply fertilizer on more than 50 acres within a watershed in distress to develop a nutrient management plan.
Anyone wishing to submit comments on the proposed rule changes can write to the Ohio Department of Agriculture, c/o Legal Section, 8995 East Main Street, Reynoldsburg, Ohio 43068, or email comments to email@example.com. Comments will be accepted no later than 5 p.m. Nov. 20.
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