Guest editorial: Land east of Stadium Rd. vital to lake’s health

Susan Orosz

        Why do we care in northwestern Ohio about wetlands? Lake Erie and its western basin have a toxic algae problem and when it gets bad, we are unable to drink its water. The Maumee River collects water from its creeks and streams and brings that water to Lake Eric at Maumee Bay. Pollution, particularly phosphorus from fertilizers and large farming operations, is considered a major part of the problem. Phosphorus runoff, particularly when there is fast moving water quickly flows into the Maumee River and hence our Bay. That results in summertime toxic algae blooms that impact and once even shut down our water supply.
        But wetlands and areas like riparian buffers act to slow this water down and filter it before it enters the Lake. This is extremely important to help in reduction of phosphorus and other harmful chemicals entering our Lake. It has been reported that each acre of a wetland can store up to 1 million gallons of flood waters. When water enters a wetland, it slows down and moves around its plants. Much of the suspended sediment in the water drops out as it moves between the plants and then settles to the wetland floor. Plant roots in the soil absorb excess nutrients in the water from fertilizers, manure, leaking septic tanks, and municipal sewage. It acts as a natural filtration system of these nutrients for plants and animals and has been likened to Mother Nature’s kidney.
        So what are wetlands? These are areas where water covers the soil for a period of time in the year and may be seasonally wet. The prolonged presence of water determines the types of plants and animals that inhabit it. There can be transitions zones where the flow of water and its cycling of nutrients along with the sun’s energy make for a unique ecosystem. They have also been dubbed - the nurseries of life -as they can provide habitat for large numbers of species of plants and animals. As we know here in Oregon and Jerusalem Township, these wetlands provide an important rest stop and places to feed for migrating birds to gain the necessary energy before crossing Lake Erie. These migratory flight patterns are well established. They are not something that could move 20-50 miles to the east if needed because of human interference. It takes on average 80-100 years for them to change those patterns. These wetlands are important for our important travelers and those diverse species that are left behind in their wetlands.
In this area, wetlands consist of non-tidal or inland marshes and swamps. Non-tidal (inland)
marshes are also dominated by soft-stemmed low plants and frequently occur in poorly drained depressions, floodplains, and shallow water areas along the edges of lakes and rivers. These freshwater marshes are characterized by periodic or permanent shallow water areas. They typically derive most of their water from surface water, including floodwater and runoff, but do receive ground water inputs. Swamps are wetlands dominated by trees and other woody plants. They are characterized by very wet soils during the growing season and standing water during certain times of the year. This area was the Great Black Swamp, and it was said that the soil was as black as midnight. This high-quality soil contained a large amount of vegetative matter and was excellent for farming.  But this swamp was also covered with trees that were cut down and the soil drained of water in order to be used for agriculture.
        For agriculture in this area to flourish and its citizens to have a clean Lake Erie, we need to re-establish wetlands. This is the basis for the State of Ohio’s H2Ohio initiative.  This $900 million environmental initiative is designed to bring back wetlands, particularly along creeks and streams that feed into Lake Erie. Nearly 2000 applications have been submitted from the 14 targeted counties in the Western Lake Erie Basin with 1.2 million acres enrolled, about 43 percent of the total cropland. This new initiative has helped and will continue to help to bring back species of birds, plants and animals while working to reduce the pollution and the algae that has been endangering Lake Erie.
        As someone who worked as a student in the Water Quality Lab at Heidelberg University and is an Avian Veterinary specialist, I understand the unique role and importance Oregon and Jerusalem Township has for keeping our water supply safe and providing an important stop over for migratory birds. We have a moral obligation to keep this land safe in order to provide clean water to its citizen for a long time to come. This area east of Stadium Road in Oregon needs to be kept in a wetland/ agricultural reserve for the benefit of all of us. Clean water and a clean Lake Erie are important for all of us in northwestern Ohio and wetlands are a major factor to provide it.
Susan E Orosz PhD, DVM, Board Certified in Avian Practice


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