Leadership Spotlight: Forging new internal partnerships at OSU to address harmful algal blooms in Ohio’s privately owned and managed lakes

By: Joe Bonnell

I’m going to use the opportunity of this month’s Leadership Spotlight to highlight a new project at The Ohio State University that represents a new collaboration between OSU Extension and the Ohio Water Resources Center in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering.

In the past several years in Ohio and in some respects, globally, harmful algal blooms (HABs) have become more frequent and have garnered the attention of the popular media. In Ohio, the harmful algal blooms on Lake Erie, Grand Lake St. Mary’s (Ohio’s largest inland lake) and on the Ohio River have made headline news and in 2014 national attention came to the HAB crisis when the City of Toledo was forced to issue a “do not drink” advisory when mycrocystin toxin from HABs were detected in the treated drinking water. While much of the attention has been focused on these high profile cases, there is also growing concern about eutrophication and HABs in the many thousands of smaller, privately owned and managed lakes and ponds (Ohio has approximately 50,000 lakes and small ponds) that Ohioan’s enjoy for boating, fishing, and swimming during the summer months. In 2011, the Ohio Lake Management Society published their Citizen Lake Awareness and Monitoring (CLAM) results; based on average Secchi disk values from 27 lakes, 70% were eutrophic and 22% were hypereutrophic, suggesting these lakes may be at high risk for HABs.

While many manuals and handbooks are available to lake managers describing various methods for reducing nutrient enrichment and suppressing algal growth, the long-term success of these techniques is not known and many lake managers are not formally trained in lake management techniques and therefore may not be familiar with the range of management strategies available. Furthermore, there is a notable gap in information and educational programs for managers of privately owned and managed lakes.

In response to this perceived need, faculty and staff from OSU Extension in the School of Environment and Natural Resources and the Ohio Water Resources Center were awarded a grant from the Office of Outreach and Engagement to reach out to lake managers in Medina County to monitor lake conditions and address their educational needs through a series of workshops and publications on lake management techniques for reducing the risks of HABs. The collaborators chose Medina County because it has the largest concentration of medium-sized lakes in the state.

The project represents the multi-disciplinary, integrated research and extension work that the Land Grant Universities like Ohio State are so well positioned to undertake. Lake managers in Medina County will be surveyed to determine their baseline level of knowledge of lake management and monitoring techniques, current management practices, lake management issues, and level of interest in educational programs and materials related to HABs. Lake managers who are interested will then be invited to participate in a workshop to learn how to monitor for HABs, nutrient levels, and other indicators of eutrophication. A subset of these lake managers will be selected to conduct detailed sampling of their lakes. Samples will be analyzed by the Environmental Engineering laboratory. The Extension Program Director for Aquatic Ecosystems will work with the lake managers to develop management strategies based on monitoring results and monitoring results will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of various management techniques. Lessons learned from this program will be applied to developing a practical guide and series of extension fact sheets for lake managers and homeowner associations. Participating lake managers will be surveyed at the end of the project to evaluate learning outcomes and changes in management practices.

Anticipated outcomes of this program are increased knowledge of algal problems and sustainable lake management practices among lake managers and decreased use of chemicals applied to medium-sized lakes. If this pilot program in Medina County proves successful, the collaborators from OSU Extension and Ohio Water Resources Center continue their collaboration and expand the program to increase our understanding of the extent of HABs in Ohio’s medium-sized lakes, to evaluate the effectiveness of lake management techniques and, ultimately, to reduce the health risks and economic impacts of harmful algal blooms around the state.

For more information about this project, contact Eugene Braig, Program Director for Aquatic Ecosystems at braig.1@osu.edu

Joe Bonnell, PhD, The Ohio State University School of Environment and Natural Resources
Joe BonnellJoe Bonnell currently serves as Program Director for Watershed Management in the School of Environment and Natural Resources. He received his PhD in Natural Resources from The Ohio State University in 2001. His extension and research programs have focused on collaborative approaches to watershed management and fostering behavior change to address nonpoint source pollution, particularly in agricultural watersheds. Dr. Bonnell was a member of the team that developed the Social Indicators Planning and Evaluation System to improve the delivery and evaluation of education and outreach programs targeting nonpoint source pollution. He is also co-director of the Ohio Watershed Academy and Ohio Environmental Leaders Institute.
Joe Bonnell, PhD
Program Director, Watershed Management/The Ohio State University School of Environment and Natural Resources
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