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H2Ohio - Protecting and Preserving Natural Resources

August 09, 2021

The Great Lakes hold monumental environmental, cultural and economic value for the region and the nation. Home to five freshwater lakes, the Great Lakes possess 95% of the country’s surface freshwater supply and is the primary water source for more than 40 million people in the United States and Canada. Plus, the maritime economy supports more than 310,000 jobs – from tourism and recreation to transportation. It’s easy to see why maintaining and protecting these vital waterways is essential.

Unfortunately, serious water issues have been building for decades in the state of Ohio. Phosphorus runoff from farm fertilizer causing algae blooms in Lake Erie, failing drinking water, wastewater and sewage infrastructure and lead contamination from old pipes and fixtures are a few of the critical problems facing Ohio’s water.

Recognizing the need for change, the state of Ohio implemented H2Ohio, a collaborative and comprehensive approach to tackling these issues with innovative solutions. Since November of 2019, state agencies have worked together to invest in projects that will reduce nutrients and provide other long-term benefits to communities across the state.

Reducing Phosphorus

Algal blooms in Ohio’s lakes, rivers and streams can threaten drinking water and impact the health of people and animals. In 2014, Toledo water customers experienced this first hand when algae was detected in the system. As a result, 500,000+ people were without clean drinking water for three days. Phosphorus runoff is one of many factors that contributed to the crisis.

For this reason, an important part of the H2Ohio program encourages and incentivizes farmers to use best management practices whenever possible. Taking these steps will help reduce the phosphorus runoff coming directly from the farms and into the Maumee River Watershed decreasing harmful algal blooms that form in Lake Erie. It’s important to note that it took years for the blooms to reach this level and it will take time and effort across the board to decrease and prevent them.

Creating Wetlands

Another key piece of the program involves wetlands. Wetlands offer many environmental benefits, such as slowing water movement, having a natural filtration process and absorption of nutrients and pollutants. In the past century, Ohio has lost 90-95% of its wetlands to development but, H2Ohio will create, restore and enhance these areas across the state in targeted locations.

Right now, there are more than 57 water quality improvement projects across the state - 26 within the Maumee River watershed and five in Lucas County.

  • Oak Openings Preserve Wetland Restoration
  • Maumee Bay State Park Wetland Reconnection
  • Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge Wetland Reconnection Projects
  • Cullen Park Flow-Through Wetland Restoration
  • Grassy Island Wetland Restoration

Read more about each project here.

These are coastal wetlands which means they rely on the flow of water from the Maumee River and from the bay. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, they provide a natural filtering process by slowing the flow of water and increasing water residence time allowing aquatic vegetation to use the available phosphorus in water and sediments to promote wetland plant growth. Experts hope this will reduce the amount of phosphorus heading into Lake Erie.

Ensuring Clean, Safe Water

The last piece of H2Ohio addresses water and sewer systems bypassing funding to local communities to allow them to make infrastructure upgrades. In the end, it will help cities provide safe and clean water for schools and daycare centers by replacing the lead pipes and fixtures and allow them to pay for important upgrades in wastewater facilities.

The water problems have taken years to create so we won’t see instant results, but we will make progress.

Resources

H2Ohio Initiative: The first year. https://h2.ohio.gov/h2ohio-accomplishments-for-fiscal-year-2020/

H2Ohio Updates and Announcements: https://h2.ohio.gov/

Cullen Park Project: https://www.cullenbaywetlands.com/.