Soil and water conservation districts play big role in H2Ohio

Wetlands in the Chippewa North mitigation site in Medina County, Ohio. (Photo: North Coast Regional Council of Park Districts/Envirotech Consultants, Inc.)

Many SWCD districts and environmental entities in the state are familiar with the H2Ohio initiative that’s been taking place across the Western Lake Erie watershed and in the
Grand Lake St. Marys watershed. The goal of this project is to address the continual battle of excessive phosphorus and other nutrients being discharged into our rivers and streams that ultimately flow into our Great Lake.

These excessive nutrient loads from sediment runoff and nutrient applications from fields are a major contributor to the harmful algae blooms throughout the Western Lake Erie Basin and Grand Lake St. Marys, or GLSM. As the nutrients that are being released into the water enable algae to grow and thrive, it robs levels of dissolved oxygen in the water, resulting in not enough oxygen for the fish and other aquatic life to persist.

While the main focus of this program originated in the GLSM region in western Ohio to reduce phosphorus levels, create wetland habitat, and provide clean drinking water for people in the region, those efforts are being noticed not just statewide, but nationally. Over the past three years, H2Ohio contributed to over 14,000 acres of wetland ecosystem restoration, and more than 110,000 acres of watershed being filtered out by wetland projects. These efforts are far from over, though.

Gov. DeWine has plans the extend the H2Ohio funding opportunities across all of Ohio to help producers and landowners implement conservation practices such as restoring and building wetlands, cover crops, creating nutrient management plans, and assisting landowners on the wise use of their resources and being good stewards of their land.

With the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed, Western Lake Erie Basin and adjacent areas already pretty familiar with the H2Ohio program and most of its ins and outs, thanks to the hard work of local soil and water districts, much of the state could still be unaware of the program and the benefits that are brought to the table from it. Luckily, producers have a multitude of resources they can reach out to for assistance with this program.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture would most likely be the leading source for information if you have any specific questions regarding the H2Ohio program. Each area within the state has its own watershed coordinator to answer questions and help producers and landowners make the proper decisions about the program.

Another resource that land owners and producers can use is their local soil and water conservation district. Soil and water districts are a great tool to use for not just producers with questions regarding H2Ohio programming, but also for the farmer or landowner that is seeking technical assistance with resource concerns on their land.

When working within the H2Ohio program, the first step of enrollment is to have and implement a Voluntary Nutrient Management Plan or VNMP for your operation. This plan is essentially designed to help producers implement only the nutrients that a field needs to have a successful yet ecologically beneficial yield and cropping season. Also, with the cost of fertilizers now, I’m sure most producers would be willing to put efforts into the field only where needed. Soil and water offices can either write a VNMP for a producer to get underway with the program or point them in the right direction. They provide resources that farmers can use to get the ball rolling.

SWCD assistance doesn’t stop there. Local district staff could come out to your farm to have a one-on-one conversation to talk about anything from plant diseases in your crops to help design a grassed waterway or implement EQIP projects. Through environmental assessments, we could discuss some projects and opportunities available through the H2Ohio program.

For more information about H2Ohio program opportunities in your area, reach out to your Ohio Department of Agriculture Area Specialist or your local soil and water office.


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