BGSU researchers join DeWine's H2Ohio water quality initiative

Wetlands monitoring is collaborative effort across departments, universities and state organizations

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio Initiative, a comprehensive, data-driven approach to improving Ohio’s water quality, has enlisted the Lake Erie and Aquatic Research Network (LEARN)  to partner with ODNR on the H2Ohio Initiative’s wetland monitoring plan.

The group will assess the effectiveness and future role of implemented and planned wetland restoration projects under the H2Ohio Initiative.

A team of Bowling Green State University scientists is part of the multi-organizational effort to help monitor wetlands in the state.

Currently involved in establishing protocols are LEARN researchers Drs. Ganming Lu, assistant professor (hydrology) in the School of Earth, Environment and Society; Kevin McCluney, associate professor of biology; and Robert Midden, research professor of chemistry.

BGSU is one of six universities involved in this important water quality initiative. Additional LEARN researchers involved in the initiative are from Heidelberg University, Kent State University, Ohio State University, the University of Toledo and Wright State University.

"Gov. DeWine has made Ohio's water quality a priority for his administration through the H2Ohio initiative,” said Mary Mertz, director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). “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."

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. 

"The goal will be to decide whether these types of wetlands are effective at reducing the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen that gets into Lake Erie and other water bodies," Midden said.

The protocols for the research are being developed now, McCluney said. Once those are finalized, the LEARN H2Ohio group will begin implementing the monitoring plan, likely with help from additional researchers around Ohio and from multiple departments at BGSU.

"The monitoring plan will be a collaborative effort from hydrology, biology, chemistry and ecology, across multiple wetlands," Liu said. "Some will be coastal, some are along river channels and farm edges, and some are swamps and marshes."

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 is designed to identify and capture these differences.

“This is an exciting collaboration that will help improve our understanding, stewardship and appreciation of inland and coastal wetland ecosystems," said Dr. Janice Kerns, 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.”

"The research is being done because harmful algal blooms are an increasing and severe problem and they are occurring in part because of the increasing amount of nitrogen and phosphorus entering our water bodies," Midden said.

The project is an important initiative for improved water quality that impacts communities throughout northwest Ohio, said Dr. Timothy Davis, the Patrick L. & Debra (Scheetz) Ryan Endowed Professor in biology.  "A healthy Lake Erie is important to the economic viability of our region. Harmful algal blooms can cause significant economic harm, and if these continue to get worse, as they are predicted to, we will continue to see increased socioeconomic impacts."

This agency-guided university effort will take advantage of existing monitoring infrastructure, such as weather stations and USGS gauges, university resources such as 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.

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.

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.

ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR website at ohiodnr.gov.