Biological Sciences Faculty to Lead H2Ohio Wetlands Monitoring Program
Researchers from the Lake Erie and Aquatic Research Network (LEARN) have been enlisted by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) to form the H2Ohio Wetland Monitoring Program, to assess the effectiveness of wetland projects associated with Governor Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio Initiative, a comprehensive, data-driven approach to improving Ohio’s water quality.
According to Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz, Governor DeWine has made Ohio’s water quality a priority for his administration through the H2Ohio initiative. “ODNR is charged with managing statewide projects focused on creating, restoring, and enhancing wetlands to improve water quality. We are working collaboratively with LEARN to draw on the expertise from Ohio’s strong academic institutions to help us document the success of these long-term investments in water quality."
LEARN researchers from Kent State, along with Bowling Green State University, Heidelberg University, Ohio State University, the University of Toledo and Wright State University will participate in sampling across multiple wetland types either currently being constructed or planned for the near future. ODNR and state scientists recognize that each wetland type will require different sampling approaches and will likely vary in its capacity to reduce nutrient runoff. This comprehensive monitoring plan, which currently includes 26 projects, is designed to identify and capture these differences.
“The diverse suite of projects being implemented for H2Ohio by the ODNR provides an ideal opportunity to address long-standing questions in wetland science—can restored wetlands effectively mitigate nutrient pollution, while at the same time providing co-benefits like wildlife habitat? And, what do managers need to do to maintain these functions in the long term?” Kinsman-Costello said.
“We have funding to hire a project coordinator who will be a member of my lab group that I will supervise, but who will also work closely with ODNR ecosystem managers and stakeholders out of the Old Woman Creek NERRS site,” Kinsman-Costello said. “The monitoring program will provide research and fieldwork opportunities for undergraduates and will create rigorous data sets and detailed field site knowledge that could support innovative, impactful graduate research projects.”
Ultimately, ODNR and LEARN are designing this effort to not only track the effectiveness of wetland efforts, but also to inform future wetland construction and maintenance. This collaboration will study different types of wetlands to determine which are the most cost-effective for mitigating nutrient runoff to Ohio waters.
“This is an exciting collaboration that will help improve our understanding, stewardship, and appreciation of inland and coastal wetland ecosystems,” said Janice Kerns, Ph.D., wetland monitoring program lead for the ODNR and reserve manager of Old Woman Creek National Estuary Research Reserve. “The information gained from this unique restoration monitoring program will support management decisions and actions that will not only benefit Ohio and Lake Erie but also ecosystems across the Midwest and Great Lakes as well.”
This agency-guided university effort will take advantage of existing monitoring infrastructure, such as weather stations and USGS gauges, university resources like Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research, existing collaborations with agencies, non-profit organizations and industry, as well as additional funding opportunities and new partnerships.
“LEARN is excited to partner with ODNR on this wetland monitoring project. We have researchers from six Ohio universities partnering with managers from ODNR, EPA, and Ohio Sea Grant, as well as local watershed groups, to ensure we develop a comprehensive monitoring and evaluation plan that can be used as a blueprint for future work,” said Silvia Newell, Ph.D., LEARN president and associate professor in Earth and Environmental Sciences at Wright State University.
In addition to the monitoring plan, strategic communications and outreach will regularly connect the scientists with stakeholders, agency staff, elected officials and media outlets. This will include webinars, fact sheets, a website and workshops to share data and current findings.
“Direct engagement between scientists at Ohio’s universities and agencies will strengthen the state’s ability to monitor and assess how H2Ohio constructed wetlands mitigate nutrient runoff to Ohio’s freshwater systems,” said Kristen Fussell, Ph.D., assistant director of Administration and Research, Ohio Sea Grant and Stone Laboratory. “I am excited that LEARN is helping to coordinate this effort and working to increase lines of communication to various audiences across Ohio.”
“These wetland projects include some coastal projects, but also many inland projects throughout the state,” Kinsman-Costello said. “We do hope that this Monitoring Plan will grow to be used state-wide and perhaps beyond to assess the nutrient functions of wetland ecosystems, but our current focus is on the 26 wetland projects currently being implemented by ODNR.”
Kinsman-Costello has done some research in Sandusky Bay to better understand the role that the sediments at the bottom of the Bay play in nutrient cycling in the surface waters. A few of the LEARN projects are being implemented in the far western portion of the Bay, where Muddy Creek and the Sandusky River enter the Bay.
“That location is relatively shallow and very turbid, and the goal of projects there are to slow down the water in the hopes that the water will be less turbid to prevent the turbidity-loving harmful algae Planktothrix from blooming there,” Kinsman-Costello said.
The Lake Erie and Aquatic Research Network (LEARN) is a group of field stations, scientific laboratories and diverse researchers within Ohio working together to promote collaborative research, education and networking to address the challenges and opportunities facing Ohio’s freshwater resources. Learn more at LakeErieAndAquaticResearch.org.
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