By Katrina Stacey
In Clermont County, Ohio, a 2,160-acre reservoir serves as a drinking water and recreation source for about half of the county. Unfortunately, since around 2010, the reservoir began experiencing harmful algal blooms that threatened the health and safety of its water. To address the issue, partners within the area began to focus efforts in the upper East Fork Watershed to reduce nutrient loads in the river and, eventually, the lake.
Thankfully, the Clermont Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) received a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG) through the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in 2011 for a project that aimed to integrate a best management practices-approach to reduce nutrient loads in the watershed.
“We were looking to try and find a project that dealt with our area,” said Jacob Hahn, Clermont SWCD technician. “We have a different geology than other places in Ohio – there’s not a whole lot of infiltration in our soils, and there’s hardly any tiles within the county. So, we really needed to capture that surface flow that was pulling those nutrients off the field.”
The project was deemed “cover and capture” and consists of two parts. The first part, “cover,” was a focused effort to get producers within the watershed to implement cover crops. Over three years, the SWCD worked with watershed landowners to plant nearly 200 additional acres of cover crops within the 550-acre focus area.
“We got really great participation from producers in the sub-watershed,” said John McManus, Clermont SWCD administrator.
The “capture” portion of the project involved the construction of an innovative treatment system modeled after an urban stormwater management practice. Since completely implementing the system in 2014 and 2015, the SWCD has received four- to five-years worth of data that has shown a removal of over 40 percent of the phosphorous and nitrogen loads.
The SWCD worked with other organizations within the East Fork Watershed Cooperative, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Research and Development and Clermont County’s Office of Environmental Quality, to design, implement and maintain the project. “Beyond just the success of the practice itself on nutrient load reductions, this project was a great success in that it was a cooperative effort across multiple agencies and the landowners,” McManus said.