The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Ohio Lake Erie Commission celebrated Earth Day with a ribbon cutting at one of H2Ohio’s newly completed wetlands, Oak Openings Preserve Wetland Restoration in Swanton, Ohio.
“As we celebrate Earth Day, we must remember the important role clean water plays our lives,” said Governor DeWine. “Clean water is critical for the health of all Ohioans and our mission with H2Ohio is to make investments today to ensure that Ohio has clean water for decades to come.”
Each agency plays an important role in this initiative. ODNR focuses on creating and restoring wetlands like Oak Openings to filter excess nutrients from the soil before they flow into larger waterways and ultimately into Lake Erie.
“These wetlands, the dozens that we are currently working on, act as sponges for nutrients that can threaten our waterways,” ODNR Director Mary Mertz said. “Not only are we improving water quality and creating critical habitat, but we are making beautiful spaces for people to come and enjoy time outdoors with their loved ones.”
The existing Toledo Metroparks Oak Openings Preserve incorporated previously farmed land adjacent to the preserve. The property was regraded and restored to wetland habitat. Forested wetlands and prairie habitat have also been added along Ai Creek, a tributary in the Maumee Basin.
“Metroparks Toledo is proud to be among the first local agencies to partner with the state to implement the much-needed H2Ohio program,” Metroparks Toledo Executive Director Dave Zenk said. “Restoring high quality wetlands throughout Lake Erie’s western basin watershed is our most important tool to address Lake Erie’s ongoing water issues and ensure that future generations of Ohioans can enjoy fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters.”
The H2Ohio initiative is a collaborative approach to improving water quality. ODNR has 83 H2Ohio projects complete or underway across Ohio, which have restored nearly 11,700 acres of wetland and filtered more than 98,000 acres of watershed. ODNR has enlisted the Lake Erie and Aquatic Research Network (LEARN) to partner with ODNR on the H2Ohio Initiative’s wetland monitoring plan. 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. The group will assess the effectiveness and future role of implemented and planned wetland restoration projects.
ODA’s H2Ohio program incentivizes producers in the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) to implement seven science-based, proven and cost-effective Best Management Practices (BMP) to help improve water quality. To date, 2,600 producers have enrolled 1.6 million acres in Voluntary Nutrient Management Plans and 1.2 million acres in BMPs, accounting for nearly 40 percent of the total cropland in the WLEB. The H2Ohio program has expanded from 14 counties in the Maumee River Watershed to now include 24 counties and the entire WLEB.
“All efforts toward water quality are important,” said Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Dorothy Pelanda. “We are so excited to celebrate our partner agencies’ accomplishments and, today, that is the wonderful opportunity to tour another completed wetland. These efforts complement our agency’s work to help producers adopt conservation practices on their farms to reduce nutrient runoff.”
Ohio EPA’s H2Ohio approach has been to concentrate on focus areas that will improve water quality, protect public health, and provide positive change to the lives of Ohioans. These focus areas are: improving Ohio’s water and wastewater infrastructure, replacing failed home sewage treatment systems, reducing lead exposure in daycare centers, and researching promising technologies for water quality improvements. To date, $15.3 million has funded 28 drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects in disadvantaged communities. To address lead, $1.75 million has been awarded in Cincinnati and Cleveland to replace lead service lines and fixtures in childcare centers. A new $1.4 million mini-grant program will provide up to $50,000 for public water systems to identify and map lead service lines.
“The H2Ohio Initiative enables Ohio EPA to extend available funding to help communities across the state address their water and wastewater needs. In addition, we are using these funds to help communities identify and replace lead service lines to reduce lead exposure to Ohioans,” said Ohio EPA Director Laurie A. Stevenson. “We are using H2Ohio funding to make a difference in these communities and the lives of Ohioans.”
Governor DeWine created H2Ohio in 2019 as a comprehensive, data-driven approach to combatting algal blooms, enhancing water quality, and improving water infrastructure over the long term. H2Ohio was launched with support from the Ohio General Assembly, which invested in the program in Ohio’s two most recent operating budgets. H2Ohio operates in partnership between the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, and the Ohio Lake Erie Commission. The initiative focuses on encouraging agricultural best management practices, restoring and enhancing wetlands, upgrading outdated water infrastructure, and replacing lead pipes. For more information on the H2Ohio initiative, please visit h2.ohio.gov.