H2Ohio Water Quality Plan to Protect Ohio’s Water

By: Steve Williamson, CPG

Published in February 2020 Focus on the Environment Newsletter

In November 2019, Governor Mike DeWine announced a water quality program designed to reduce harmful algal blooms in Ohio’s lakes, improve wastewater infrastructure, and prevent lead contamination. At that time, Governor DeWine stated:

“We have a moral obligation to preserve and protect our natural resources. …My H2Ohio plan is a dedicated, holistic water quality strategy with long-lasting solutions to address the causes of Ohio’s water problems, not just the symptoms.”

A part of the plan targeted the reduction of phosphorus runoff from fertilizer and manure using agricultural best management practices, and the creation of wetlands to absorb the nutrients that come from farm fields. On January 15, 2020, Governor DeWine and Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda announced that $30 million in H2Ohio funding will be available starting this month for Ohio farmers in fourteen counties(1) in the Maumee River watershed to help farmers minimize phosphorus runoff. The funds will be available to farmers who implement one or more of ten proven methods that reduce runoff of phosphorus. The ten proven methods are:

  • Soil testing
  • Variable rate fertilization
  • Subsurface nutrient application
  • Manure incorporation
  • Conservation crop rotation
  • Cover crops
  • Drainage water management
  • Two stage ditch construction
  • Edge-of-field buffers
  • Wetlands

Nutrient Reduction Practices

Details regarding these practices can be found at the H2Ohio website and the Blanchard River Demonstration Farms Network (BRDFN) website. The BRDFN, a joint partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services and the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, is designed to showcase and demonstrate leading edge conservation practices to improve Great Lakes water quality. There is a wealth of information on the BRDFN website regarding the reduction of soil erosion and the fertilizer/nutrient loss from farm fields discharging into surface water.

The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agriculture, and Environmental Sciences Extension service has a website on the subject of two-stage channels, including links on why a two-stage ditch should be considered, steps in sizing a two-stage channel, and economic and design issues.

Success Story

A good example of a success story regarding the reduction of nutrients into surface water is the Shatto Ditch in northeastern Indiana. The Shatto ditch was discharging phosphorus and nitrate rich muddy runoff from farm fields into the Tippecanoe River. Rainwater was eroding the farm fields, and farmers were losing valuable topsoil and fertilizer, which was flowing into the Tippecanoe, which flowed into the Wabash River. Following initial studies, the ditch was modified into a two-stage ditch. Farmers planted grass along the waterways, and started planting cover crops to help hold the soil and prevent erosion. Farmers adopted other modern agricultural practices and have substantially reduced the erosion and nutrient loading of the ditch and the Tippecanoe River. Articles discussing the project can be read at the University of Notre Dame and Center for Public Integrity websites.

Meetings to Learn about the Funding

The Ohio Department of Agriculture, along with local soil and water conservation districts and the Ohio Agriculture Conservation Initiative will hold meetings to describe the process necessary for farmers in the Maumee watershed to obtain funding for similar projects. The Governor’s announcement lists the days and locations of the informational meetings.

This is one step in reducing nutrients being discharged into the Maumee River and Lake Erie. The state is planning on offering the program to other parts of the state in the future. Other parts of H2Ohio include ensuring safe, clean water to citizens of the state by addressing failing home septic systems in disadvantaged communities, and assessing the amount of lead in the water of high-risk daycare centers and schools.

(1) Allen, Auglaize, Defiance, Fulton, Hancock, Hardin, Henry, Lucas, Mercer, Paulding, Putnam, Van Wert, Williams, and Wood.

Steve Williamson is a Senior Scientist with Cox-Colvin & Associates, Inc. He holds a BS degree in Environmental Health and an MS degree in Hydrogeology from Wright State University. Mr. Williamson has over 30 years’ experience working on brownfields, solid and hazardous waste, and groundwater contamination projects in Ohio and the Midwest.