Ashland County Soil and water

ASHLAND, Ohio— Thanks to a grant from the Ashland County Community Foundation, Ashland County residents will soon have access to more recent, up-to-date data on the quality of their water throughout the county.

Ashland County Community Foundation recently awarded the SWCD $3,500 for the purchase of equipment to conduct water quality sample assessments that will provide access to more recent data than what is currently available through the state’s EPA reports.

“Ashland County is so fortunate to contain a wealth of natural water resources that not only enhance our community, but which also bring numerous visitors to Ashland County from across the state and country,” said Jane Houin, Ashland SWCD program administrator. “However many of those waterways are considered impaired for recreational use due to high bacterial counts from failing septic systems and livestock manure runoff.”

Houin says their district struggles with access to current water quality data that would allow them to quantify the impact of conservation practices that are being implemented around the county. The district staff frequently look back to EPA data that was published in 2007 and 2013.

In 2019, the district was awarded a watershed coordinator grant by the Ohio Department of Agriculture to conduct education and implement on-the-ground conservation practices throughout the Jerome Fork Watershed. That watershed is particularly important because it forms the headwaters of the Mississippi River Basin, and any negative impact to water quality has impact that is felt all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

More locally, the Jerome Fork watershed feeds into the Lake Fork and the Mohican River — one of Ohio’ largest outdoor recreational complexes and a significant economic driver for Ashland County, bringing tourists to the area to enjoy the river, scenery, camping and shopping the Mohican area offers.

Unfortunately, the latest Ohio EPA data classifies the Mohican as impaired for recreational use use due to high bacteria levels, which the EPA attributes to failing septic systems in the Mohican and its contributing watersheds as well as manure runoff from livestock operations.

“Through our Jerome Fork Watershed Coordinator grant, we are focusing on five key areas to improve water quality: increasing the use of cover crops, implementing precision conservation through computer modeling, improving manure management, conducting watershed planning, and improving stormwater management,” said Erica White, Jerome Fork Watershed coordinator and technician with Ashland SWCD. “This water quality testing equipment will allow us to measure the impact these practices are having on local water quality as well as evaluate seasonal changes in water quality to help pinpoint factors contributing to water quality.”

As part of the process, Ashland SWCD is hoping to bring a Northern Ohio Watershed Corps (NOWCorps) service member to their staff in the fall of 2021.

NOWCorps is an AmeriCorps partner organization where service members receive a living allowance and educational award at the end of their year of service while serving their community.

In addition, White hopes to engage community members in a citizen-science initiative to help quantify water quality and quantity data in the county. Volunteers can be trained to help collect and analyze water quality samples from the district’s new equipment, and the district also provides training for precipitation monitors and river ice spotters.

For now, White will leads the water quality testing efforts to measure the impact of conservation measures on the watershed’s health and help identify priority areas to address in the future.

For more information about Ashland SWCD’s water quality programming and how to become a volunteer, contact White at 419-281-7645 or at ewhite@ashlandcounty.org.

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