Since Gov. John Kasich took office nearly five years ago, he has led the charge to improve water quality at Grand Lake St. Marys, as well as waters across Ohio. During his first gubernatorial campaign, as a state representative and a farmer in the area, I had the opportunity to show him around Grand Lake St. Marys and visit some of the local farms in Mercer County.
The Governor left understanding the important roles agriculture and tourism play in western Ohio and how integral the health of our lake was to the community. During his first week as Governor, he talked about how important improving water quality would be for Ohio, and his commitment to that has never wavered. We can say now that we are making strides, and many people are taking notice.
For instance, anglers visiting Grand Lake St Marys will tell you that the fishing has been great over the last several seasons. Anglers looking for bass, catfish, blue gill or crappie rarely leave the lake disappointed. Grand Lake also played host to 48 fishing tournaments during 2015, which bring not only participants, but their families as well to the area to enjoy the lake and the community.
Additionally, these visitors are likely part of the growing number of people that are coming to spend their weekends at Grand Lake. Comparing our numbers from 2014 to 2015, the state park saw an increase of 14 percent for campsites used and an increase of 11 percent in getaway rentals. The local Chamber of Commerce has indicated that they too are seeing an increase in overnight stays, and the Greater Grand Lake Visitors Center received a record amount of revenue from the lodging tax paid by those overnight visitors. The community is beginning to rebound, and we want to see that continue and intend to work hard each day to help make sure it does.
That hard work began in earnest the day Gov. Kasich took office. Since that time, we have launched an aggressive dredging program to remove the nutrient-rich sediment that feeds harmful algae, and treatment trains have been built to treat water prior to it flowing from the watershed into the lake. Additionally, farmers have taken great strides to keep nutrients on their fields and out of the waterways that flow into the lake, and fishing events aimed at removing the rough fish that stir up the nutrient-rich sediment have been common on the lake. These efforts not only help improve the quality of the water in the lake, but they demonstrate the commitment we have to this community and to making the lake healthy.
Progress is being made as:
• All 141 unpermitted livestock farmers in the Grand Lake St. Marys watershed have completed comprehensive nutrient management plans (CNMPs) for their land. These plans are just one example to show how hard these farm families are working to put into practice farming techniques that help keep nutrients on their fields and out of the waterways that feed into our lakes.
• More than 1.2 million cubic yards of sediment has been removed from the lake in the last four years. This includes 365,000 cubic yards of sediment that was removed this year.
• We worked with the community to provide two treatment trains at Prairie Creek and Coldwater Creek, which feed into Grand Lake. These treatment trains are useful as they mimic the natural work typically done by wetlands and water dosing to help filter runoff before it flows into the lake.
Despite what some may say, this problem wasn’t created overnight, and it will take time to heal the lake. Our goal has always been to focus on a multi-year, multi-faceted approach to reducing
the phosphorus in Grand Lake. We are making progress. We are committed to not only creating a healthier Grand Lake St. Marys, but a healthier Lake Erie, a healthier Ohio River and to improve water quality throughout Ohio.
Jim Zehringer is the Director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). A native of Mercer County, he formerly served Darke, Mercer and Preble counties as a state representative for the 77th House District, and he is also a former Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture.