H2Ohio is Governor Mike DeWine’s water quality plan to reduce harmful algal blooms, improve wastewater infrastructure, and prevent lead contamination. The Ohio General Assembly invested $172 million in H2Ohio in July 2019. The program’s efforts are statewide with an initial emphasis on the Western Lake Erie Basin, specifically within the Maumee River Watershed.
One targeted solution in the plan is to help reduce phosphorus runoff and prevent algal blooms through the creation of wetlands. Wetlands absorb pollutants, offering a natural filtering process. They slow down the movement of water, managing flooding, and offer recreation opportunities. Two of the initial H2Ohio-funded projects are located in the Hancock Park System.
Oakwoods Nature Preserve Wetland Restoration Project (East)
Most of this project’s existing agricultural lands will be converted into wetlands and the remainder is to be developed as native prairie. The work includes restoring natural hydrology to the landscape by decommissioning agricultural field tiles and diverting that water flow through wetland treatment areas. These wetlands also will serve to treat runoff from nearby active agricultural lands.
Project size: 65 Acres
Oakwoods Nature Preserve Wetland Restoration Project (West)
This project improves water quality by taking agricultural lands out of production and creating or restoring wetlands, woodlands, and prairie. Aurand Run traverses the project area and will be reconnected to its floodplain, allowing nutrient-rich streamflow to be treated through three acres of riparian wetlands. Other project efforts include decommissioning subsurface drain tiles, enhancement of degraded riparian habitat along Aurand Run, and restore a buffer to protect 15 acres of an existing high-quality forested wetland.
Project size: 77 Acres
H2Ohio ‘Dream Team’ shapes monitoring protocol at Oakwoods
FINDLAY—Ohio Governor Mike DeWine unveiled H2Ohio on November 14, 2019, as a comprehensive, data-driven water quality plan to reduce harmful algal blooms, improve wastewater infrastructure, and prevent lead contamination. On March 22, 27 scientists representing six Ohio universities gathered at Hancock Park District’s Oakwoods Nature Preserve (ONP) to develop a monitoring program for all of the wetlands implemented by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) as part of the H2Ohio initiative. Following Monday’s meeting the group will put expertise and sampling equipment to the test at the 48 sites currently related to the H2Ohio initiative, all with the common goal of discovering just how effective wetlands are at intercepting nutrient-laden surface water in the Lake Erie Watershed.
Eric Saas, H2Ohio Program Manager with ODNR, was in the thick of the wader-wearing throng. “This is the first time that we’ve gotten these researchers together in person,” he said, citing previous weekly Zoom calls as precedent.
The ONP Wetlands Restoration Project, funded in 2020 during Phase 1 of H2Ohio, includes a number of different habitats that support studies for the educational community. The east portion of the project sits in an agricultural field that is being converted into a number of shallow wetlands that may be completely dry for most of the summer and fall. These vernal (spring) pools serve as essential breeding habitat for certain species of wildlife, including amphibians that are an important food source for small carnivores as well as large game species. Wetlands in the west project will hold water most of the year as adjacent Aurand Run feeds water into the pools during overflow events.
“That’s why we chose this site,” explains Dr. Robert Midden, Adjunct Research Professor at Bowling Green State University (BGSU). “We’ve got the opportunity to do most of the types of sampling that we need to do.”
Because of the close proximity to ONP, BGSU will perform most of the wetlands monitoring there. However, Dr. Lauren Kinsman-Costello, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences at Kent State University, leads this dream team of scientists. She did her dissertation on phosphorous cycling in wetlands and is conducting active research projects that are relevant to the H2Ohio initiative. But Kinsman-Costello notes that the program is very much a group effort.
“There are so many different kinds of wetlands and so many ways that they can be restored. It’s almost like comparing apples to plums to grapes to, like, Kool-aid,” she laughs. “We’re trying to figure out how to create a program that’s flexible but also standardized enough that we can come up with data that’s really comfortable for all. We don’t really know of any other monitoring program in the United States that does that specifically for this many types of wetlands.”
Kinsman-Costello voices the group’s hope that there will be other researchers that use their program as a foundation to study all of the other benefits that wetlands provide. “Wetlands can improve water quality, create habitat, wonderful spaces for people to be in and we want to make sure that wetland restoration is done in a science-based way. Are these tax dollars well-spent in terms of nutrient removal and what can we do better.”
Saas adds that H2Ohio is looking forward to additional phases of the wetland restoration work as his department estimates that the current number of project sites is about a third of what must be done to remove nutrients and prevent excess nutrients from getting downstream.