New nutrient trapping program takes off

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Portage River. Image: r Drdpw, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 2.5

By Lea Mitchell

A newly funded project in Ohio’s Ottawa Soil and Water Conservation District aims to reduce water nutrients and sediments that flow into Lake Erie, causing excessive growth of algae.

With a bit of help, the Great Lakes Sediment and Nutrient Reduction Program provides grants to local and state governments and nonprofit organizations to install erosion and sediment control practices in the Great Lakes Basin.

The commission was established in 1955 to address threats to the Great Lakes, and the nutrient reduction program began decades later.

“The Great Lakes Commission issued a grant to the Ottawa Soil and Water Conservation District to address runoff concerns into Lake Erie,” said District Program Administrator Mike Libben.

The commission partnered with the district on a project in the Portage River Watershed to intercept and hold water nutrients and sediments on farm fields to lower the chances of it flowing to the Lake Erie Watershed.

The watershed is in northwest Ohio, flowing northeast to Lake Erie.

“This program was geared toward landowners in helping them reduce the drainage of fertilizers, nutrients and other pollutants into the water,” Libben said.

The district teamed up with landowners and farmers to offer cost share eligible acres which is funding to install conservation practices for a variety of best management practices that aid them to reduce runoff.

“The grant allows for some funding for landowners to make it a little cheaper to install these practices, so they can try it out. It gives them a chance to try them out, something they maybe wouldn’t have done without assistance,” said Ken Gibbons, a program specialist at the Great Lakes Commission.

There are many practices recommended through the nutrient reduction program such as: water control structures, vegetation buffers, field-edge prairie strips and the soil health challenge, a three-year program where farmers compare best management practices side by side with their traditional practices.

According to the district, water control structures are permanent and placed in ditches to control the direction of water and regulate waters levels within a farm field. Vegetation buffers are areas of foliage between agricultural fields and waterways. As water enters the buffer, the foliage absorbs the water and nutrients, keeping them from entering the water. Field-edge prairie strips are native grass buffers located on field edges to trap nutrient runoff.

The district will provide a conservation plan for participating farmers on half of their land. On the other half the farmers will continue their present traditional practices.

They will compare both sides and calculate economics to ensure they won’t lose money.

“We are trying to get them to do nutrient management and compare their way versus what we want them to be doing. It can help them with the fear that they will be losing income,” Libben said.

The best management practices are aimed toward landowners.

“Some practices that we chose were traditional, while some were innovative ones to try and get some new things out and about,” Libben said.

Grants are awarded based on applications.

“It’s a competitive process,” Gibbons said.

“Our job is to find these grant opportunities to fund and encourage land owners to change what they are doing,” Libben said.

The district estimates that when implemented, the project will reduce nitrogen, phosphorus and sediment runoff by approximately 13,000 pounds per year where it currently averages about 360 million pounds, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We just started, but everything on the list are proven practices, that we know work. It’s just the matter of getting more of them up and going in the watershed,” Gibbons said.

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