ASHLAND — Before the news cycle became inundated with COVID-19 and its variants, there was one constant in the headlines: water quality. And when the coronavirus news cycle finally ends, water quality will return to the headlines.
From news stories on Lake Erie’s algal bloom to the hypoxic dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, water quality affects everyone. Ashland County plays a vital, if sometimes ignored, role in both of those headline stories.
Ashland County is uniquely situated at the headwaters, or the start, of both the Lake Erie and Mississippi watersheds. That means what happens here has big implications downstream.
That’s why the Ohio Department of Agriculture recently awarded Ashland SWCD a grant to target improving the water quality of the Jerome Fork of the Mohican River. One key aspect of doing that is doing watershed planning, one small watershed at a time.
In 2019, the district tackled planning for the Lang Creek watershed, which included the city of Ashland, and in 2020 they tackled the job of assessing the needs of a much more rural watershed, Orange Creek. This year, in their Jerome Fork watershed grant’s final year, they are tackling the watershed needs of Katotawa Creek Watershed.
“We really look forward to getting back out into the community and meeting with the residents of the Katotawa Creek watershed, and we have some in-person planning meetings planned for that,” said Jane Houin, Ashland SWCD program administrator. “But, we also know that given the current health situation, not everyone is comfortable meeting in person.
"So, we’re working hard to reach out to residents of the Katotawa Creek watershed through mailings and online surveys so that we can get a feel for their concerns about their local water quality and issues.”
In addition to an in-person meeting in November, the district has begun distributing surveys both through the mail and online to begin to assess what community members identify as sources of pollution and impairment in the Katotawa Creek watershed. Once those needs are identified, staff will begin working with the community to prioritize tools and practices that can be used to improve our water quality on a local level.
It’s important to understand this is not a stream or a river clean-up project for Katotawa Creek - it’s about identifying and prioritizing needs on a watershed scale. To do that, the community first has to identify what a watershed is and what it is not, said Houin.
A watershed is a land area that channels rainfall and snowmelt to creeks, streams and rivers, and then eventually to outflow points such as reservoirs, lakes, bays or the ocean. So even though water is a key part of a watershed, the watershed is actually the land, not the water body.
The first step in this process is a community effort to identify activities and practices taking place on the land that impact our water quality. Once those potential sources are identified, then work can begin to prioritize steps and practices that can be implemented on the land that will improve the quality and health of the water in our waterways.
The Jerome Fork is a natural corridor through the center of our county. Nearly half of the county’s land actually drains into the Jerome Fork.
Katotawa Creek is one of the six sub watersheds that make up the larger Jerome Fork watershed and runs from just south of Polk to below Interstate 71, with the western boundary near the Ashland County airport and the eastern boundary hear the intersection of Township Road 1150 and Interstate 71.
Not only do community members enjoy Ashland County’s natural resources and waters, but our water resources - including the Jerome Fork - are huge economic engines for the county, drawing visitors from across the state and country to where their tourism dollars are invested into our local businesses.
That’s why it’s so important that our community members and businesses participate in these opportunities for watershed planning, Houin said. If we fail to protect and preserve our county’s water quality and resources, the impact will not only be felt by our communities and residents, but it will also have a devastating impact on our tourism economy.
Houin invites all Ashland County residents to join the discussion and make their voices and ideas heard by visiting Ashland SWCD’s website at www.ashlandswcd.com to complete a survey sharing your concerns and input about the Katotawa Creek watershed. Hard copies of the survey are also available by calling the office at 419-281-7645 and asking for Erica White.