Sustainability… What Is It?

By: Susie Steffensen

There are a number of definitions for sustainability and ways to achieve it. For example, one definition is, “Meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” Another, as it applies to nature is, “The quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.” For both of these definitions, steps taken now will determine the quality of life for future generations.

There are factors that play into the world’s ability to be sustainable, such as population growth…. energy usage….waste production… agricultural practices and deforestation…plastic use. Addressing these factors and implementing practices that reduce their effects on the environment is the goal, and everyone can do a little something to achieve this goal.

Recycling and reducing the use of single use plastic addresses the need to reduce waste. Turning down the thermostat, turning off lights, and reducing the hot water heater to 120° are ways to reduce energy consumption. Implementing best management practices such as precision agriculture, cover crops, and grassed waterways will improve water quality and help prevent erosion.

So if you are already taking action to help sustainability, thank you! Picking up litter, stopping erosion on your property, allowing weeds to grow in your yard… these things are so beneficial and don’t cost a thing. It might mean rearranging your priorities, but anything that benefits our natural world will benefit you in the long run.

For more information follow us on Facebook, as we will be posting additional ideas on ways to practice sustainable living.

NRCS Announces EQIP Deadline

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) announced Friday, March 20, 2020, as the deadline to submit applications for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This is a voluntary conservation program which helps producers make conservation work for them. Through EQIP, NRCS provides agricultural producers with financial resources and one-on-one help to plan and implement improvements, or conservation practices.

Financial assistance is now available in a variety of agricultural categories such as cropland, forestry, pasture operations, and organic. Several projects are also available which address water quality, forestry management, improving pollinator populations and wildlife habitat, pasture improvements and many more.

To participate in USDA conservation programs, applicants should be farmers or farm or forest landowners and must meet eligibility criteria. Applications signed and submitted to NRCS by March 20 deadline will be evaluated for fiscal year 2020 funding.

Contact John Williams for additional information and to sign up at 513-877-3720.

SWCD Water Quality Efforts Recognized

Full detention structure in field waterway

Clermont SWCD, along with the Clermont Office of Environmental Quality and the US EPA Office of Research and Development were awarded the top government storm water project of the year at the 2019 Ohio Storm Water Conference in Sharonville, OH. Our project was funded by a USDA Conservation Innovation Grant and was installed in 2015. This project was funded to research innovative solutions by developing new strategies to support conservation efforts. The project involved the installation of an urban storm water detention basin into an agricultural setting. This project is currently being researched to determine effectiveness of agricultural nutrient removal.

Submerged treatment bed for nutrient removal

The need to address agricultural runoff is important because of the water quality degradation and algal blooms that are occurring around the world. Nutrients leaving agricultural fields are a contributing factor to water quality problems. The soils that we have in our county are very unique to Ohio and an “outside the box” approach was needed because current management practices do not always apply in our area.

The partnership to make this project successful includes many county, state and federal agencies, landowners, and the private industry. This project speaks to the great success of everyone working together for a viable solution.

Forestry Management Open House

Clermont SWCD, along with representatives from ODNR-Forestry, OSU Extension, and USDA are planning an open house to answer questions regarding private timber harvesting operations.

With the loss of ash trees across the region, many landowners are faced with difficult decisions on what to do with their properties. This opportunity will allow landowners to gain knowledge and meet forestry experts that can assess their situation and provide guidance on how to successfully manage their properties. There will also be opportunities to speak with an urban forester on those properties with just a few or no trees.

Please stop by our office on October 25th between the hours of 3-7 pm. Obtain maps, learn about funding for timber management and invasive control (sorry-still no ash tree removal funding), and threats and opportunities that could affect your forest.

Erosion Concerns? Try a Riparian Buffer

If you own property that borders a stream and have concerns with the banks eroding and/or water quality, there are some relatively simple measures that you can take to alleviate the problems.  Sometimes the impact is too great, and steps are needed to provide armoring or protection, but if the erosion is not too severe, riparian buffers may be the answer to your worries.

Property owners that mow or weed right to the stream are setting themselves up for erosion problems.  Turf grass has very shallow roots which do a poor job of holding soil in place.  As a result, there is very little under the ground holding the soil in place, and it can be more easily washed away during high stream flows.  When natural vegetation is allowed to grow along a stream’s banks, the benefits are amazing.  When trees, shrubs and native grasses become established along a stream, it is referred to as a riparian buffer.  These plants have deep root systems which do a very good job of holding soil in place.

Buffers also provide many other benefits.  They shade and cool to the stream, which helps promote a healthy and diverse fish community.  Buffers are very effective at filtering pollutants such as lawn fertilizers, animal waste, and pesticides.  They also provide wildlife corridors and habitat.

Clermont SWCD suggests a buffer width of 25 feet for small streams, and increasing the width as the drainage area and stream gets bigger.  However, any buffer width is better than none at all.  The greater the width, the more positive impacts there will be for the stream.  Some plant species that will work well in a stream buffer zone include sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), willows (Salix sp.), red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea), spicebush (Lindera benzoin), and grasses such as meadow sage (Salvia pratensis) and different varieties of rushes (Juncus sp.)

If you have any questions or would like any guidance in establishing your own riparian buffer, contact us at 513-732-7075, or by email at jhahn@clermontcountyohio.gov.

US EPA Model Helps SWCD Focus Conservation Efforts

Predicted sediment loads for different areas in the Grassy Run watershed

Since 2008, Clermont SWCD and other members of the East Fork Watershed Cooperative have been working together to reduce nutrient and sediment levels in the East Fork Little Miami River and Harsha Lake. One Cooperative member – US EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD) – has developed a water quality model that is making it easier for SWCD to focus our conservation efforts.

Using data collected by various members of the Cooperative, US EPA-ORD has developed and calibrated a Soil and Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) model for the East Fork watershed. The SWAT model has been effective in predicting sediment and nutrient loads from different land uses, and also in predicting the impact that various management scenarios might have on reducing pollutant loads. Already, this model has helped Clermont SWCD with several projects.

In 2011, Clermont SWCD received a Conservation Innovation Grant that provided funds for a concentrated planting of cover crops in the Grassy Run Watershed. US EPA-ORD applied the SWAT model to help identify areas within the watershed which are prone to high soil erosion, and therefore good candidates for winter cover crops. Once these locations were known, SWCD staff and the NRCS District Conservationist were able to work with producers to secure commitments to plant cover crops in these fields for a period of three years.

More recently, Clermont SWCD received a Resource Conservation Partnership Program grant for additional conservation practices in the Harsha Lake watershed. For each application received, US EPA-ORD uses the SWAT model to predict nutrient loadings from that field. The fields with the highest loadings receive additional points in the ranking process, and receive additional consideration for funding assistance. In this way, SWCD and NRCS are able to use limited grant funds in areas where they are most needed.

Through its partnership with US EPA-ORD, Clermont SWCD hopes to continue to use the SWAT model as part of future programs so that we may focus conservation efforts where they are most needed.

International Delegation Visits Clermont SWCD

In October, a delegation with the China Ministry of Agriculture visited the Clermont SWCD office on their tour of American agriculture. The delegation was deeply interested in programs that are available to farmers and mapping soils, including soil health.  The delegation visited with staff from our office and Lori Lenhart with the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Duke Energy, Clermont SWCD Partner on a Beautiful Solution to Storm Water Pollution

Recently, Duke Energy and the Clermont Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) partnered with a homeowners’ association in a Union Township subdivision to combat runoff problems and beautify the neighborhood at the same time.

Under a $25,000 grant from the Duke Energy Foundation, Clermont SWCD worked with the Shayler Woods Homeowners Association (HOA) to install a 1000 square foot rain garden in a section of the subdivision where storm water did not receive any treatment before it reached a small creek. The garden will catch storm flows from two small drainage areas and allow it to soak into the ground over a day or two rather than running off into the creek. Along with reducing flow, the garden will help filter pollutants, including nutrients found in lawn fertilizers what can contribute to algae blooms.

Gene Benninger, the president of the Shayler Woods HOA, said “We are pleased that our community was chosen for this project. It has greatly enhanced the appearance of the landscape, and we look forward to Spring when everything will be blooming.”

Clermont SWCD offers guidance to any landowner in Clermont County, including homeowners associations, interested in creating their own rain garden.  Requests for assistance can be made by calling (513) 732-7075. or sending an email to ssteffensen@clermontcountyohio.gov.

Pollution Diet for the East Fork Watershed

A Pollution Diet Coming for the East Fork Watershed

Ever wonder how clean our water resources are? Is the water safe to drink? Is it ok for my children to swim in the river? Or is the river healthy enough to fish from? Thanks to the Clean Water Act (CWA) the answers to these questions aren’t hard to find. Under the CWA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with keeping Ohio’s waters fishable swimmable and drinkable and each state has adopted standards to measure how water bodies are meeting these goals. Ohio EPA (OEPA) uses a set of standards coined biocriteria to determine whether a stream meeting the fishable goal. In other words they look at the health of the fish and macroinvertebrate communities to identify if a stream has poor water quality or other impairments. If a river is determined to be impaired then OEPA develops a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for that watershed where it identifies all of the sources of pollutants and puts daily limits on those sources in an effort to clean up that river. Enforcement of those limits could include pollutant load reductions from point sources of pollution, such as waste water treatment plants, or implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) for nonpoint sources, such as agriculture or urban runoff.

In 2012 OEPA began their study of the East Fork of the Little Miami River, which is 80 miles long and drains a 500 square mile watershed. They sampled around 90 sites for chemistry, stream habitat and fish and macroinvertebrate health. The technical support document released by OEPA names the principal cause of impairment in the East Fork as organic enrichment, and to a lesser extent nutrient enrichment. Nutrient enrichment can come from leaky sewers, the over application of fertilizers and sometimes even natural sources such as soil types high in phosphorus. Organic enrichment can come from natural sources such as decomposing plant material, or unnatural sources like sewage or manure. Organic enrichment is harmful to aquatic life, such as fish and macroinvertebrates, because bacteria consume oxygen while processing organic materials, leading to oxygen stress on aquatic life. Nutrients can also cause oxygen depletion by encouraging the overgrowth of algae, which consume oxygen during nighttime respiration. In the East Fork, OEPA identified wastewater treatment plants and nonpoint source pollution from agriculture and on-site sewage systems as the sources of organic and nutrient enrichment, but the plan for addressing these pollution sources (TMDL) isn’t expected to be released until the spring of 2015. This plan will be in draft form and there will be a comment period during which stakeholders can express their concerns or comments with OEPA.

Despite the state being responsible for regulating pollution sources in the East Fork watershed, local stakeholders are taking a very active role in the outcome of the TMDL and how the watershed is managed. The East Fork Water Quality Cooperative, comprised of Natural Resources Conservation Service, US Environmental Protection Agency, Farm Services Agency, US Army Corp of Engineers, USGS, and Clermont County SWCD and Office of Environmental Quality, have been pooling resources to assist in determining the causes and sources of water quality impairment in the East Fork Watershed since 1996. Much of the data collected by the Cooperative is being used by the state in development of the TMDL. Additionally we’re using data collected at small spatial scales, i.e. individual properties, to determine if we can cost effectively improve water quality in the East Fork River by strategically placing best management practices in areas that are sources of the highest amount of pollutants. The Cooperative is also very interested in improving water quality in Harsha Lake which is a recreational resource and a drinking water source for approximately 100,000 residents of Clermont County. By pooling resources and working closely with farmers and water resource managers, the Cooperative is at an advantage in ensuring we have a healthy watershed for everyone to enjoy.

Pond Vegetation and Algae

Many different plants grow in and around the pond.  They convert sunlight energy into organic materials; the basis for dissolved oxygen in your pond. When there is an overabundance of plants, they become aquatic weeds. Control of aquatic weeds can be tough, especially algae. There are two types of algae, filamentous and planktonic. Filamentous is often seen as a yellowish green mat on the surface. This algae starts life on the bottom of the pond and feeds on oxygen as it nears the top. This occurs after very low levels of water allow the algae to be exposed on the bottom or disturbance causes it to break free from the bottom and circulate through the water. Planktonic algae is a microscopic plant floating in the upper few feet of water. It appears as soup green, brown, or bright green colored paint split on the surface. Copper Sulfate is one method of algae control. Follow the label recommendations for best results and do not over apply.