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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences


New Research to Examine Connections Between Land Use, Public Policy, Lake Erie Water Quality and Climate Change

January 13, 2012

Editor: This story was previously released by Ohio Sea Grant.

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A new research project at Ohio State University integrates biological, physical and social sciences to develop a complete picture of what drives decision-making processes and environmental conditions in the Maumee River watershed. The four-year, $1.5 million project, funded by the National Science Foundation, will combine decision-making models with hydrological modeling and future climate change scenarios to examine how people’s actions in the watershed affect water quality in Lake Erie.

Researchers from six different departments at two universities – Ohio State and Case Western Reserve University – are working together to examine how watershed management practices like the application of agricultural fertilizers impact water quality in Lake Erie, how public perception of the health of the lake may influence those practices, and how these relationships are likely to change under climate change scenarios.

“Not many people have looked at different populations within a watershed and what drives some of their decisions about land use,” says Jay Martin, scientist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center and associate professor of Ecological Engineering in Ohio State’s Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Martin is one of the principal investigators in the study. “By knowing what guides people’s behavior in these different settings within the watershed, we can start to make necessary changes.”

The researchers will incorporate focus groups, surveys, interviews and hydrological modeling – how water flows within the watershed – to develop models of what influences people’s policy attitudes and land management decisions. Urban and agricultural populations close to and farther away from the lake and from various economic groups will have input during these research phases, and findings will be incorporated into traditional and behaviorally driven land use models that consider results from the focus groups and surveys. Lastly, the researchers will use climate scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to predict how changes in human behavior may offset or contribute to changing environmental conditions.

The Maumee River watershed is the largest watershed in the Great Lakes region, stretching across northwestern Ohio, into southern Michigan, and as far west as Fort Wayne, Indiana. It drains into the western basin of Lake Erie, where harmful algal blooms are common during the summer months. Phosphorus runoff from agriculture and other industry has become a focus area in the effort to reduce these algal blooms. This research will examine the connections between people across the entire watershed and the health of Lake Erie.

Over the course of the four-year project, Ohio Sea Grant will maintain, a website that provides project background, contact information, and other resources for those interested in learning more about the research. The site will also be updated with workshops and other public educational events, which are part of the project’s outreach goals.

Additional Ohio State researchers involved in this project include Robyn Wilson and Eric Toman, assistant professors in the School of Environment and Natural Resources; Stuart Ludsin, assistant professor in the Department of Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology; Elena Irwin, professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics; Erik Nisbet, assistant professor of communication; and Brian Roe, professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics. Carlo DeMarchi, senior research associate in the Department of Geological Sciences at Case Western Reserve University, will collaborate in the hydrological modeling phases of the research.

Christina Dierkes
Jay Martin