Ohio is embarking on a series of wetland construction and restoration projects in the northwestern part of the state as part of Gov. Mike DeWine’s recently announced H2Ohio initiative, which includes $172 million over two years to reduce harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. If successful, the voluntary practices and broader conservation initiative could prove as a model for addressing runoff issues in other states.

The lake “is a vital resource, and these projects jump-start our initiative to secure its long-term health,” DeWine said.

The wetlands announcement came shortly after DeWine released a plan to implement the H2Ohio effort, which will establish phosphorus targets for individual counties in the Maumee River Watershed and provide funds to implement conservation practices. It also includes money to address "failing home septic systems in disadvantaged communities and possible lead contamination in high-risk day care centers and schools," the governor's office said.

Farmers will use a mobile app created by the Ohio Agricultural Conservation Initiative (OACI) to help determine, with assistance from their local soil and water conservation district, which practices would best work for their farm.

Those practices include soil testing; variable rate fertilization; subsurface nutrient application; manure incorporation, crop rotation; cover crops; drainage water management; two-stage ditch construction; edge-of-field buffers; and wetlands.

The OACI is made up of farm and environmental groups, as well as academic institutions. Members include the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association, The Nature Conservancy, the Ohio Environmental Council, the Ohio Dairy Producers Association, the Ohio Soybean Council, the National Center for Water Quality Research at Heidelberg University and the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

“This is one of the first and only times all these groups have come together,” said Ohio Corn and Wheat spokesperson Brad Reynolds. “We all want a clean lake.”

“OACI brings people to the table who usually wouldn’t sit at the same table,” said Ty Higgins, speaking for the Ohio Farm Bureau.

OACI is working to establish “a baseline understanding of current conservation and nutrient management efforts while building farmer participation,” said Ohio Environmental Council spokesperson Emily Bacha.

Higgins called DeWine’s initiative “a big win for Ohio agriculture. We’ve been asking for five years for a comprehensive approach to water quality with funds to back up the effort.”

At the same time, he said $172 million over two years will not be enough to clean up the lake. “It’s going to take years and years to see the results we need to see in Ohio,” he said.

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