Addressing Lake Management in the Pond Capital of Ohio

Harmful algal blooms or HABs are present across the North Central Region, and Ohio is no exception.  In fact, for many Ohioans the issue is especially close to home. 2011 saw a record-breaking blue-green algal bloom in Lake Erie which spanned roughly 2,000 square miles and drastically impacted the ecosystem. Then, in 2014, over half a million residents in Toledo, Ohio faced a “do not drink” advisory due to toxins from HABs in their drinking water. And HABs are not limited to large-scale waterbodies; many privately owned smaller lakes and ponds see blooms that impact local flora and fauna and limit recreational activities. According to Eugene Braig, the Program Director of Ohio State University Extension’s Aquatic Ecosystem program, this combination of large and small-scale bloom events throughout the state has stirred a tremendous amount of interest.

Microcystis covering a lake in Ohio

Microcystis covering a lake in Ohio. Photo by Eugene Braig

It was this interest that led Braig and colleagues from OSU’s Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geodetic Engineering to lead a project training individuals who live near smaller lakes and reservoirs in pond management and HAB prevention.

Braig notes there is already a lot of information on lake management out there, but that doesn’t mean some populations aren’t being overlooked. “A lot of the larger lakes and reservoirs are professionally managed by individuals who are trained in lake management.  And there is a lot of literature targeted to private owners of small ponds.  It’s the moderate-sized waterbodies, owned by multiple individuals, that often get left out. Those owner groups need training as well.”

Funding from OSU enabled Braig and colleagues to travel to Medina County, the pond capital of Ohio, and host trainings for individuals from various multi-owner lake groups. The training focused on long-term lake management and taking the right actions today to ensure healthy lake ecosystems tomorrow. In addition, participants received training in volunteer nutrient monitoring enabling them to monitor their aquatic ecosystems and develop management plans accordingly. Read More

Top Three Takeaways: Wetland Values for Water Management

The Current Webinar 38: Wetland Values for Water Management focused on the varied issues surrounding wetland water, soil, and species across the North Central Region.  Extension professionals and water science experts offered unique perspectives and research highlighting key areas of importance in wetland water management, specifically looking at the effects agriculture and invasive species have on these resources.

Miss the webinar and don’t have time to watch the recording? Not a problem – here are the top three takeaways:

  1. According to Larry Cihacek’s research, disturbed wetlands in proximity to agricultural lands have higher pH levels, higher salinity, and lower organic matter likely due to tillage and cultivation, leaching, and erosion of calcareous materials.
  2. Dr. Jake Kerby’s team found that wetlands affected by agricultural tile drainage systems had higher nutrient loads like nitrate, higher levels of neonicotinoids, and higher levels of selenium.  The high levels of selenium found in these wetlands, Kerby says, is transferring from the soil to wetland insects and the overall wetland food web.
  3. Michael Monfils explained that many indicators demonstrate marsh birds decline in recent years but there is still a lot we don’t know. His team is working on a myriad of research examining marsh birds in the Great Lakes Region to determine accurate population estimates, patterns in new or refined marsh bird habitats, and how altering and restoring wetlands affects wetland birds.

Read More

Bittersweet Earth Day

Earth Day fell on a Sunday this year. With a nod to my need for introvert time, I celebrated in the garden. Wheel-barrowing finished compost from back yard to front, getting my hands in the soil, and seeding in the lettuce and spinach with a few prayers to guard against late frost; these are all reminders that we humans are of the earth — and in it – not just on top of it like cars on a street. Gardeners, farmers, and many hunters and anglers recognize the sweetness of partnering with the planet to produce something of value. As we plant or hunt or fish, we watch the earth in action, admiring the results of millions of years of trial and error that brings us the magic of healthy soil, the elegance of wood duck, or the power of a fighting salmon.

Yet most of these folks, myself included, know what it feels like to push too hard –  a shot or a cast misses the mark, a tractor gets bogged down axle-deep in mud, new lettuce withers under the onslaught of invading ice. Our human version of trial and error, at the individual scale, often results in little more than a bruised ego. The earth is rarely fazed by these relationship faux pas, and then only for a short time. Read More

Announcing Two New Network Projects Focusing on HABs

The North Central Region Water Network is pleased to announce two new seed-funded projects beginning in May 2018, addressing harmful algal blooms (HABs) in the North Central Region and beyond. The Network is partnering the Water Resource Research Institutes (WRRI) in the North Central Region and Lower Mississippi River Basin to strengthen research and Extension education HABs through the following projects:

  • Extension and Water Resources Research Institute Partnership for Mitigating Harmful Algal Blooms across the Midwest and Beyond
    This project is a 12-state partnership with Extension and WRRI representatives from each North Central state working together to document existing Extension responses to HAB-related issues, assess HAB-related outreach needs, and develop recommendations for strengthening HAB research and outreach to positively impact the quality of peoples’ lives. Each state is represented by extension and WRRI co-leads.
    Project Director: Richard Cruse, Iowa Water Center and Iowa State University
  • Reservoir Observer Student Scientists (ROSS): Engaging Youth in Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring
    This project is a five-state planning project setting the groundwork for a youth education program that engages high-school students in monitoring their local lakes and reservoirs for cyanobacterial HABs in the spring, fall, and winter. The project will monitor HABs in local watersheds in participating states, identify teachers willing to conduct the monitoring program, develop protocols and curricula for engaging high school students in HAB monitoring, and establish a mentorship group. Participating states include Missouri, South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, with other states interested in signing on, including Minnesota and Wisconsin.
    Project Directors: Dan Downing, University of Missouri Extension, and Rebecca North, University of Missouri

We look forward to working with each of these projects to facilitate progress toward the Network goals of increasing connectivity and learning between university professionals and partners, building capacity of universities to address multi-state water-related issues, and generating measureable economic, environmental and social impacts in the short and long term.

Congratulations to our recipients!

Edge-of-Field Research Focuses on Controlled Drainage and Saturated Buffers for Reducing Nutrient Runoff

Article by Lois Wolfson and Ehsan Ghane.

Agriculture in Michigan is one of the three biggest industries in the state and it is essential to the state’s economy. An important component of agriculture is subsurface (tile) drainage, since it improves infiltration and moves water off the field quickly for crop production. However, subsurface drainage can increase nutrient transport to surface water. A study of Ohio’s watersheds demonstrated that 48% of dissolved phosphorus losses from the field were from subsurface drainage. This nutrient delivery to streams and lakes can have a detrimental impact on the water quality and the environment due, in part, to algal blooms and toxin production from some algal species.

A new outlet pipe and anti-seep collar being installed at a saturated buffer monitoring site.

To help combat this issue, a 5-year project at Michigan State University is looking to determine if controlled drainage and saturated buffers can improve surface water quality by reducing the loss of both dissolved phosphorus and nitrogen in subsurface drainage water.

A saturated buffer is a practice where drainage water from the outlet is diverted into the soil through perforated pipes along the drainage ditch.

Controlled drainage is a practice where the outlet level of the drainage system can be raised or lowered, resulting in a lower or higher discharge based on the time of the year. The benefit of raising the outlet level during the non-growing season is to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus delivery by reducing subsurface discharge. Lowering the outlet level drains the field, so farmers can get their equipment in the field before planting and harvest. The outlet level can also be raised prior to applying manure to reduce the chance of nutrient loss through subsurface drainage. In addition to reducing nutrient loss from the farm, controlled drainage can also increase crop yield. Research regarding the phosphorus reduction of controlled drainage, however, is limited. Read More

Do larger American cities risk a run-in with Day Zero?

Natural resource geek that I am, I must confess that seen very few natural disaster movies. My small list includes James Cameron’s 1997 film  Titanic, Steven Soderbergh’s 2011 film  Contagion, Craig Gillespie’s The Finest Hours (2016), and Roar Ulthaug’s Norweigian film The Wave (2015) (thank you for the recommendation, Martha Martin!). No Day After Tomorrow (2004), no The Impossible (2012), and certainly no Into the Storm (2014) or Geostorm (2017).

The greatest of these films capture our hearts and our minds. The characters remind us of the best and worst of ourselves and the people we know. They take us far enough outside of our own world to change our perspective and keep us close enough so we can bring the story back with us when the lights come up.

Cape Town Water ShortageDay Zero would make a great natural disaster film title, but it’s not a headline you would want coming to your community anytime soon. Day Zero is the term Cape Town, South Africa uses to describe the day their public water supply will be shut down due to extreme water shortages. This is on top of the already deep cut in water use that Capetonians and farmers in the surrounding countryside have made.

As with most natural resource management issues, the problem is a combination of long-term overuse of existing supplies, lack of sufficient planning for new supplies, and nature’s mood swings – in this case a severe drought. As is also common with natural resource management, scientists have been researching and communicating about the coming crisis for decades. Read More

Lois Wolfson of MSU Awarded Distinguished Academic Staff Award

This story was originally published on MSU today and has been edited and republished here.

Photo Credit: Michigan State University

NCRWN is excited to announce that Lois Wolfson was recently awarded Michigan State University‘s Distinguished Academic Staff Award!

Lois, who is a critical member of our leadership team, was awarded this honor for her exemplary record of outreach, teaching, research and service and unwavering commitment to the management, protection and preservation of Michigan’s waters.

Lois has been a champion for water resources in Michigan and beyond for more than 38 years. Throughout her remarkable career, she has advanced understanding of water resource protection and management, and supported connections with colleagues and peers to help them succeed.

Wolfson has a knack for building and maintaining networks among water resource stewards in Michigan and nationwide while contributing her own expertise and enthusiasm. She frequently serves as the linchpin of interdisciplinary and multi-organizational partnerships including the North Central Region Water Network, and is vital to the success of these enterprises. Read More

Tackling the Science Communication Puzzle

For those of you I haven’t met, I’m Anne Nardi and I joined the NCRWN team in October as the network’s marketing and communications specialist. Now, if you, like many of the science professionals I have met in the past, just recoiled at the word ‘marketing’, I don’t blame you. Communications and marketing have gotten a bad rap in the science world. But in my opinion, communication and marketing are critical to the success of science-based solutions.

Like it or not, we are all a product of our biases and heuristics. We each have unique perspectives, and those perspectives and life experiences affect how we think – including how we think about water and water-related issues. And while that may seem obvious, these individual level differences mean the way to effectively communicate with one person is not necessarily the best way to communicate with someone else. Moreover, individuals often communicate in different ways, so the platform that is best to reach one person isn’t always the best platform to reach someone else. To make matters more complicated, sometimes communication best practices don’t prove to be true in specific situations. Read More

Can Manure Improve Soil Health?

This post was originally published on the Soil Health Nexus blog.  It has be adapted and re-published here.

Is there a correlation between soil health (or soil productivity) and manure? A report recently released from the Soil Health Nexus team looked to answer this question by analyzing soil health related variables and manure land application details.

Manure being applied in the corn field, using a drag-hose system.

The study was conducted by Teng LimDonna Brandt, Allen Haipeng Wang, Saranya Norkaew, and Randy Miles of the University of Missouri, using data collected under the Missouri Cover Crop Cost-Share Program and experimental field plots.

Overall, they found no significant difference between the fields with and without manure application for most of the variables collected, with the exception for phosphorus. The lack of correlation is thought to be due to the small portion of state-wide samples associated with manure land application, and high sample variability.

When the team narrowed the data to the county level, manure application showed to increase active carbon contents for two of the top three counties where manure application data was collected. The manure application also significantly increased organic carbon, phosphorus, potentially mineralizable nitrogen, and water stable aggregate values for another county. Read More

Diverting Runoff One Garden at a Time

As part of Kara Salazar’s work  as Sustainable Communities Extension Specialist for Purdue University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources and Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant , she runs the Sustainable Communities Extension Program. The program works to support community planning and sustainable community development strategies for communities across Indiana. One of the program initiatives is the Purdue Rainscaping Education Program which works to educate communities about sustainable landscape practices that can prevent polluted runoff.

The Purdue Rainscaping Education Program, which Salazar co-chairs, formed in 2013. The team provides advanced training for Purdue Master Gardeners, conservation agencies and organizations, stormwater professionals, and landscape companies and consultants on installing rain gardens in residential settings or small-scale public spaces. Salazar, along with fellow co-chair John Orick, state coordinator of the Purdue Master Gardner Program, and core team members Laura Esman, Jane Frankenberger, Rosie Lerner and Kris Medic, developed and pilot tested a series of 15-hour rainscaping workshops in 2015 and 2016. The workshops use the flipped classroom technique, in which participants are asked to watch videos on each topic before the in-person training. During the in-person workshop, participants engage in interactive activities and discussions, visit community rainscaping projects to deepen their learning, and even create a demonstration rain garden alongside community partners.

Through the pilot, team members’ extensive evaluation, and a peer review, the team is continuously working to improve the program. In 2017, the team conducted a train-the-trainer workshop for Extension staff. Attendees participated in introductory webinars before attending an all-day training where they participated in hands-on exercises and group discussions, and planted a demonstration rain garden alongside team members. After the training, each participant received a host guide for conducting workshops independently throughout the state, with resources, videos, and a comprehensive participant curriculum. Read More