Study to look at how farming and other actions impact Lake Erie

COLUMBUS — How do people’s actions, including farming, affect the Maumee River watershed, the largest in all the Great Lakes? A new Ohio State University research project will try to find out.

The four-year study, backed by a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant, will look at what drives decisions, behaviors and activities in the watershed and how this combines to affect Lake Erie, the next stop for the watershed’s water.

Fertilizer use

Fertilizer use on farms and in cities, current and future lake conditions, public perceptions of Lake Erie’s health, and public policy-making will be studied. Factored in, too, will be possible future climate change impacts.

The lake is in the spotlight due to recent harmful algae blooms, with last year’s called the worst in decades. Scientists say excess soluble phosphorus — from fertilizer, manure, sewage and otherwise — is one of the causes.

“Not many people have looked at different populations within a watershed and what drives some of their decisions about land use,” said Jay Martin, an associate professor of ecological engineering in Ohio State’s Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering and a scientist with the university’s Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

“By knowing what guides people’s behavior in these different settings within the watershed, we can start to make necessary changes,” said Martin, who is one of the study’s principal investigators. Co-researchers include scientists from Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University.

Developing models

The researchers will incorporate focus groups, surveys, interviews and hydrological modeling — how water flows within the watershed — to develop models of what influences people’s policy attitudes and land management decisions.

Urban and agricultural populations close to and farther away from the lake and from various economic groups will have input during these research phases, and findings will be incorporated into traditional and behaviorally driven land use models that consider results from the focus groups and surveys.

Lastly, the researchers will use climate scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to predict how changes in human behavior may offset or contribute to changing environmental conditions.

The Maumee River watershed stretches across northwestern Ohio, into southern Michigan and as far west as Fort Wayne, Indiana. It drains into Lake Erie’s western basin, where harmful algae blooms have become common in summer.

Outreach goals

Over the course of the four-year project, Ohio Sea Grant will maintain http://ohioseagrant.osu.edu/maumeebay, a website to tell people more about the research — background information, contacts, resources and more. The site will have updates on workshops and other public educational events, which are part of the project’s outreach goals.

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