The University of Toledo and Ohio Sea Grant recently sponsored two free workshops addressing the issue of harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. Harmful algal blooms (HABs, excessive growths of toxin-producing algae that form in Lake Erie during the summer, adversely impact aquatic life and human health as well as recreation, tourism, fishing, and property values. Triggered primarily by excess phosphorus, HABs in Lake Erie have reached crisis proportions in recent years. Experts from science, government and law addressed best practices and legal tools for reducing phosphorus entering Lake Erie and its tributaries from key sources in Ohio.
Lake Erie is part of the Great Lakes System which contains 20 percent of all the freshwater in the world. Numerous Federal and State reports have identified Lake Erie as impaired due to excessive loadings of sediment and nutrients. Long-term water quality monitoring has identified the Maumee River as being the largest single contributor of nonpoint source pollution to the Lake.
Reports and modeling done in the basin by U.S. Geological Survey, USDA Agricultural Research Service, Heidelberg College, and NRCS have identified the erosion control practices of conservation tillage and conservation buffers as effective in reducing both soil erosion and sediment transport from the watershed. Nutrient management, manure management plans, wetland restorations, and controlled drainage have been shown to effectively reduce nutrient transport from the watershed to the lake. Current USDA Farm Bill programs are a proven means of facilitating installation of these practices by farmers.
NRCS has developed a plan to use Rapid Resource Assessments, Area Wide Planning, and acceleration of USDA Farm Bill programs to address the resource concerns for the Western Basin of Lake Erie, and the contributing watersheds including the Maumee, the Portage, and the Ottawa Rivers as well as other smaller direct discharge streams between Toledo and Sandusky Bay. The project area encompasses 4.2 million acres in the Maumee River watershed and another 714,000 acres in the Ottawa River, Portage River, and the Lake Erie direct tributaries combined, for a total project area of 4,914,000 acres.
Rapid Resource Assessments in each of the eight different 8-digit hydrologic units in the project area will be combined into a basin wide plan. This data will be used through an Adaptive Management approach to fine tune and guide the acceleration of the USDA Farm Bill programs.
The plan estimates the acres of filter strips, riparian buffers, grassed waterways, conservation tillage and nutrient management as well as the number of Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plans (manure management), waste storage structures, and pasture systems that will be needed to address resource concerns.
This 10-year plan for accelerating the participation in USDA Farm Bill programs will involve financial assistance to farmers in the form of cost sharing and practice payments, and technical assistance to assist farmers in planning and applying these practices.
Progress will be measured by a combination of means, including the NRCS Progress Reporting System (PRS), annual tracking of land use/cover changes, conservation tillage transects, and water quality monitoring data.