Aerial shot of a marina on the show of Lake Erie.

Embracing Clean Water One Marina at a Time

What mental image comes to mind when you think of boating in Ohio? Perhaps it is sailing and powerboating on the shores of Lake Erie, or jet skiing on Alum Creek Lake outside Columbus, or maybe a quite canoe adventure at Grand Lake St. Mary’s? But let’s not forget taking a pontoon down the Maumee River or a celebrating a night out with a dinner cruise or pedal wagon on the Ohio River. According to Sarah Orlando, Program Manager for the Clean Marinas Program with OSU Extension and Ohio Sea Grant, boating can look very different depending on the waters you navigate.

Sarah has been with the Clean Marinas program since 2011 and at the time the program was limited to the Lake Erie Watershed with joint funding from Ohio Sea Grant and the ODNR Office of Coastal Management. But in 2015, thanks to additional funding from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the program expanded and now supports marinas and recreational boaters statewide.

Sarah Orlando speaking with a Platinum certified Clean Marina.

The Clean Marinas program is a voluntary non-regulatory program that certifies marinas and other recreational boating businesses that work to keep Ohio’s coastal and inland waterway resources clean. Sarah works with marinas of all shapes and sizes to help implement best management practices for aquatic invasive species, marine debris, stormwater, wastewater, spill prevention and response, and coastal resiliency.

“We have about 375 marinas across the state of Ohio, many of which are private businesses – that is a lot of shoreline that we aren’t reaching if we aren’t engaging with them and working with them to implement practices to protect our water resources,” notes Sarah. “If we only did green infrastructure or coastal resiliency practices in public areas with public dollars, we wouldn’t make as much of a dent in improving water quality.”

And that is where Orlando sees her role come in – she works with private marinas across the state providing education and technical expertise on ways they can keep the water they depend on for their business clean for years to come.

For Sarah – it’s all about listening to marina owners, aiming to understand where they are coming from as a business and trying to find a solution that will help them exceed state quality standards while also ensuring they are ready for the next storm or doing their part to prevent harmful algal blooms which can negatively impact their business.

A marina with a green infrastructure implemented on it’s property.

“Many of our partners understand the boating industry, but they are unfamiliar with water quality research and environmental issues. So, I get to sit down with them in their office and help them understand the purpose of having a stormwater plan. Some of the folks I work with won’t know what stormwater is, but I try to help explain the concept. I am up to date on the regulations, and I have the science background to understand the reasoning behind the regulations and can help them through the process of creating a plan that is going to work for them,” notes Sarah. And according to her – that is her favorite part. “I love when we can find a solution that works for both of us – for improving their business but also improving the environment.”

While there is funding for education and outreach, there are very few mechanisms to help marinas pay for the cost of implementing a best practice on their property – unlike agricultural land for example where the Farm Bill establishes clear programs to cost-share the cost of conservation practices. In 2019 Sarah and her colleagues were able to secure Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Great Lakes Protection Fund dollars to do a green infrastructure demonstration project at a marina in the Lake Erie Watershed.

“Adapting green infrastructure for a marina setting and retrofitting existing infrastructure can serve as an example for others and as a key piece of the puzzle to minimize nutrient pollution into our waterways and helping address harmful algal blooms in the state of Ohio,” notes Sarah. “This project was a great example where we got funding assistance, so the cost wasn’t entirely on the marina owner. We have already had 3-4 field trips this year where we are using this as an outreach tool and showing other owners the filtering impact green infrastructure can have.”

According to Sarah, this is something she is looking forward to doing more of in the future. The Clean Marinas program can play a role in connecting marinas and the bigger water quality issues facing the area. “Marinas can be part of the solution. The key is getting them to see themselves as partners, participants, and leaders in the effort and our program is an example of that.”

Sarah Orlando, Ohio State University Extension

Headshot of Sarah Orlando

Sarah Orlando is an Extension Educator with Ohio Sea Grant based in the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Coastal Management in Sandusky. She is the Program Manager for the Ohio Clean Marinas and Clean Boaters programs – voluntary, incentive-based programs to help maintain and improve Lake Erie water quality while preserving the economic activity and viability of the marine trades industry. Sarah also coordinates the Ohio Shrink-Wrap Recycling Program, a cost effective, eco-friendly alternative to disposing of shrink-wrap for Ohio marinas and boaters. Her primary responsibilities include conducting applied research, education, and outreach to the marina and boating community on a variety of topics including nonpoint source pollution, stormwater, wastewater, aquatic invasive species, marine debris, and coastal resiliency. Sarah holds her bachelor’s degree in biology with minors in marine science and English from Wittenberg University, and her master’s degree in marine resources management from Texas A&M University at Galveston.

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