Ohio EPA releases 2020 watershed nutrient study

Kelly J. Kaczala

        The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) released its 2020 Nutrient Mass Balance Study, which showed that the Maumee and Scioto river watersheds had the largest annual nonpoint sources of phosphorus in the last five years.
         The study, required to be issued every two years under House Bill 64 (passed in 2015), examined phosphorus and other nutrients from agricultural and other nonpoint sources, municipal and industrial wastewater systems, and home sewage treatment systems, which make up the majority of nutrient sources.
        The study encompassed 11 watersheds across the state, which drain 66 percent of Ohio’s land area, In addition to the Maumee and Scioto river watersheds, they are: Cedar-Toussaint, Cuyahoga, Great Miami, Huron, Muskingum, Old Woman Creek, Portage, Sandusky, and Vermilion.
        The study includes a more detailed look at the Huron and Old Woman Creek Lake Erie watersheds than in the previous reports.
        Other findings of the report include:
        •Nutrient loads from point sources (wastewater treatment plants plus home sewage systems) were higher in the Ohio River basin than the Lake Erie basin;
        •The watersheds with the highest nonpoint source contribution of phosphorus and nitrogen had the highest proportion of land area dedicated to agricultural production. The highest nonpoint yields were in Northwest Ohio where nearly 80 percent of the land area is used for agriculture;
        •The increased nonpoint source loads in 2019 further document that hydrology – especially due to wet weather – drives a large share of the nutrient loads.
        The Maumee watershed ranked highest for total nutrient load, while the Scioto watershed ranked second in total nutrient load.
        The 2018 nutrient study similarly showed that the Maumee and Scioto watersheds generated the highest total phosphorus load when averaged for the five water years of the study (2013-2017). That study also showed the Maumee watershed ranked highest for the total nutrient load, while the Scioto watershed ranked second highest in total nutrient load.
Federal funds
        Substantial state and federal dollars, including Gov. Mike DeWine’s H2Ohio Plan, continue to be allocated to nutrient reduction efforts to address both point and nonpoint sources in many of the watersheds referenced in the 2020 report, especially those in the Western Lake Erie basin. Launched by DeWine in 2019, H2Ohio is a collaborative water quality effort to provide clean and safe water to Ohio. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Ohio Department of Agriculture, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, and Ohio Lake Erie Commission each has a significant role in H2Ohio through the natural infrastructure of wetlands, the reduction in nutrient runoff, the increasing access to clean drinking water and quality sewer systems. To learn more go to h2.ohio.gov.
        Monitoring programs are tracking potential water quality improvements from these nutrient management practices.
        The nutrient study results will assist the state in identifying the most environmentally beneficial and cost-effective legislative, policy, and financial mechanisms to reduce phosphorus and other nutrients affecting state waters. The study aids in tracking progress to goals established by the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the Gulf of Mexico Hypoxia Task Force 2001 Action Plan.  
This article was based on a press release issued by the Ohio EPA. Information was added by News Editor Kelly J. Kaczala from the 2020 Nutrient Mass Balance Study


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