Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories



The Maumee River Project -
Curbing Sediment Delivery

The Maumee River watershed is the single largest contributor of phosphorus and sediment to Lake Erie. The watershed contributes 46 percent of the phosphorus and 37 percent of the sediment entering Lake Erie, but only 3 percent of the inflow.

The Ohio portion of these watersheds drains 4,850 square miles and covers portions of 17 northwest Ohio counties. Approximately 80 percent of the land surface in the watershed is cropland. Erosion rates are relatively low (less than 5 tons per acre), but the soils are high in clay content. Clay particles easily suspend in water and have chemical and physical properties that strongly absorb phosphorus, thus creating a major water quality problem for Lake Erie.

The key to phosphorus reductions

The Maumee River's goal for this project was to reduce phosphorus transport to Lake Erie by 310,000 pounds over a three-year period. To do so, however, the project would need an annual soil savings of approximately 99,028 tons (297,084 tons over three years). Using a conservative 10 percent sediment delivery ratio, the necessary soil savings was forecast as 9,903 tons per year.

To obtain local buy-in and increase landowner participation, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, other state and federal agencies, and the soil and water conservation districts in the Lake Erie basin worked with local county committees to develop phosphorus reduction strategies.Each county had a specific phosphorus reduction allocation, and a local strategy designed to meet it. In general, the plans indicated that the best way to reduce sediments and phosphorus entering Lake Erie was to maintain adequate cover on the land, especially in winter and early spring.

Federal funds were available so that the project could

  • cost-share the purchase of conservation farming equipment;
  • offer incentives (in this case, tax rebates) to encourage (1) the adoption of cultural practices such as winter cover and filter strips, or (2) permanent land-use changes; and
  • provide financial assistance for such high-ticket items as animal waste management collection and storage facilities.

The resource management systems that resulted from these aspects of the project usually included rotation, conservation tillage (residue management), pest management, and fertility management. They were often developed and installed with technical assistance from the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Exceeding expectations

Not only has the Maumee River Project met its goals, it has enjoyed widespread acceptance by the agricultural community. The actual phosphorus and soil saved was nearly double the initial objectives. Reliable estimates are that 545,736 pounds of phosphorus and 43,168 tons of sediment were saved.

Another number to note is that 525 farmers cooperated in the project. Given that conservation tillage equipment lasts many years and is now installed on over 500 farm demonstration sites, residue management will continue to be practiced in the watershed for years to come. Not only that, but since "farmers learn from farmers first," we can expect the adoption rate of conservation tillage to increase.

Although the catalyst and overriding influence for the success of the Maumee River Project was the farmers' strong conviction that it was in their best interest to participate, other motivations also played a role:

  • the involvement of all stakeholders, including local, state, and federal agencies, bankers, machinery dealers, and farmers;
  • the identification of a common purpose and single goal;
  • clear and attainable objectives on the Ohio side of Lake Erie;
  • flexible decisionmaking, shared leadership, process planning, and local ownership; and
  • identification of best management practices that not only dealt with the environmental problem but also made sense to farmers in turn of improving management and profitability.
The resource management systems that resulted from these aspects of the project usually included rotation, conservation tillage (resi due management), pest management, and fertility management.

Lessons learned for future projects relate to scheduling times and economic realities. First, consider timing. Farmers make most of their equipment and land-management decisions immediately after fall harvest. Consequently, the greatest impacts are likely to come from projects driven by the cropping season, not agency or corporate budget cycles. Then, consider economic incentives. Filter strips, for example, have not been easy to promote in Ohio; most farmers have to give up cropland to establish this BMP, and do not always see its value. The average annual incentive payment for filter strips was only $20 per acre, while the average annual cash rent available on the land was $80 per acre. Farmers derive little income from filter strips, though they must also continue to pay real- estate tax or rent on land put to that use. At a minimum, then, the incentive payment should be equal to the farmers' cost.

CONTACT: Julio Perez
Division of Stormwater-Nonpoint Source
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
(614) 644-2874

Indian Lake -
Limiting Pollution Inputs

Eight years of cooperative activity between many federal, state, county, and local agencies and citizens is yielding results in the Indian Lake watershed. Ohio's third largest reservoir, Indian Lake covers 4,800 acres in west-central Ohio and draws from a drainage area of 100 square miles in three counties Logan, Hardin, and Auglaize. Indian Lake was formed by the damming of the Miami River in 1852 to supply water to the Miami-Erie Canal system, an important trade route between the Ohio River and Lake Erie. Since that time, Indian Lake has been heavily used for recreation. More than a million people visit Indian Lake each year for camping, boating, swimming, fishing, or a variety of other activities.

The Clean Lakes Program funded several assessments of Indian Lake (in 1988 and 1990), and these assessments identified several nonpoint source problems:

  • overabundant weed growth,
  • high nutrient levels and algal production,
  • poor transparency and aesthetics, and
  • diminishing volume as a result of sedimentation.

Indian Lake's watershed contributes approximately 1,500 tons of sediment annually to the lake from each square mile in the drainage area. Agricultural runoff from highly erodible soils within the watershed accounts for most of this problem. With an average sediment thickness of 3.5 feet, the lake's depth has been reduced to an average of 6.5 feet, which severely limits recreational activities.

Because of the sediment problem, the lake has been dredged on a regular basis since World War II. Innovative watershed activities have been added to the dredging effort to emphasize the importance of limiting other pollution inputs, especially phosphorus and nitrogen. The area's multiple agencies use a watershed approach, which includes the following practices:

  • cost-sharing no-till and ridge till equipment, chaff spreaders, and chisel points;
  • offering a conservation incentive to recognize farmers achieving at least a minimum percentage of crop residue;
  • demonstrating various stream protection and restoration practices;
  • installing a sediment retention basin; and
  • conducting nutrient management education.

The Indian Lake project was one of the first in the nation to incorporate a highly successful equipment buy-down program, encouraging farmers in the watershed to use conservation tillage equipment.

Taking stock of recent gains

After six years of project activities related to various nonpoint source controls, soil losses from erosion have been reduced by an estimated 50,000 tons per year roughly a third of the total soil loss occurring in the watershed.

Citizens and professionals notice fewer sediment plumes in the lake after significant rainfall events. Crop observations throughout the watershed in 1996, often performed by professionals using transects, revealed that 87 percent of crops are now planted with conservation tillage.

Use attainment in 1994, based on samples of fish and macroinvertebrate communities, indicates that streams or stream reaches that failed to support their designated aquatic life use in 1988-1989 have improved to full or partial attainment in 1994.

CONTACT: Julio Perez
Division of Stormwater-Nonpoint Source
Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
(614) 644-2874

Jump to main content.