COLUMBUS, Ohio – A working farm just west of The Ohio State University campus and nestled in the heart of metro Columbus is being transformed into a learning laboratory of best management practices for water quality protection and whole farm sustainability.
A $194,324 grant from Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and local matching dollars totaling $132,456 will enable the Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District to demonstrate several progressive projects on OSU's Waterman Agriculture and Natural Resources Laboratory (2433 Carmack Rd.). The projects will serve as application tools for current and future farmers and showcase environmental stewardship for students, faculty and urban residents.
"The educational project will provide on-the-ground examples of how to improve operations and the sustainability of production, reduce maintenance costs and protect water resources both on the farm and downstream," said Russ Gibson, Ohio EPA's Division of Surface Water Nonpoint Source Section manager. The Franklin Soil and Water grant is one of eight federal Section 319 Clean Water Act grants awarded by Ohio EPA this year. The grants total nearly $2.8 million.
"With this Ohio EPA grant, OSU's Waterman Agriculture and Natural Resources Laboratory will become the site of comprehensive conservation technologies that will serve as a model for both farmers and students in reducing nonpoint source pollution. Furthermore, we'll enhance crop and livestock production, while demonstrating to our urban neighbors how conservation management can repair damaged watersheds," said Reagan Bluel, Waterman manager.
Bluel works alongside dozens of student employees – and 100 Jersey milk cows – as she oversees the 167-acre dairy farm portion of Waterman's teaching, outreach and research complex. This site includes horticulture, grade A fluid milk production, crop science, turf grass, forestry, wetlands, floriculture and apiculture. Bluel said OSU's partnerships demonstrate the university's commitment to be a leader in water quality improvement through effective whole farm management practices.
Partners include Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District; Ohio Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials (NEMO), a nonpoint source pollution education program of Ohio State University Extension; Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed; Ohio EPA; Ohio Department of Natural Resources; the Franklin County office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Service; and Ohio State's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.
"Waterman is a working farm with great visibility. We feel it's the perfect location to demonstrate common conservation practices for producers, industry, students and passersby, and it's the best place to draw attention to some innovations in water quality improvements," said Jessica D'Ambrosio, Ohio NEMO program manager.
Projects will be conducted in two phases. Phase I kicked off with a demonstration on June 26, when more than 30 members of the Ohio Land Improvement Contractors Association began rehabilitating approximately 450 feet of the South Waterman Stream, a tributary of the Olentangy River. The contractors donated their time and expertise to excavate floodplain benches, create erosion resistant tile outlets and seed and mulch the benches, side slopes and buffer area. Using a two-stage channel design – a superior alternative to traditional ditching – project partners are in the process of reconnecting the active floodplain to 1,000 feet of the stream.
"We are taking a formerly manipulated drainage channel and providing increased stability and capacity so as to re-establish some of the ecosystem functions of this stream," said Kyle Wilson, a natural resource conservationist with Franklin Soil and Water Conservation District.
Other Phase I projects, to be implemented late this summer to early fall, include installing livestock exclusion fencing along 6,500 feet of the stream; four livestock stream crossings; two acres of trees, shrubs and grass buffers; a rainwater harvesting system; and a conservation and manure management plan. Project partners hope to complete Phase I by late 2010. Phase II projects slated for 2011 include composting and nutrient (fertilizer and manure) management demonstrations, anaerobic biodigester program expansion, cover crop establishment, filter area and stream bank stabilization.
Land use can affect water quality by impairing stream channels and disconnecting them from their floodplains. Within the urban headwaters and rural portions of the Olentangy River watershed, land use and development have altered South Waterman Stream's natural ability to reduce flooding and filter nutrients and other pollutants.
Waterman's Agricultural Best Management Practices Demonstration and Education Project aims to show farmers how to minimally invade a stream channel in order to improve it, while still continuing agricultural production. Project partners hope the demonstration broadens the public's understanding of rural land use impacts and the vital role streams play in increasing water quality by controlling inputs and capturing sediment and nutrients. The project is expected to annually reduce 122 pounds of nitrogen, 60 pounds of phosphorus and 21 tons of sediments. Anticipated urban benefits of include less flooding and storm water treatment resulting in reduced treatment costs to taxpayers.
To demonstrate these positive outcomes at Waterman, project partners plan to conduct bus tours, workshops and other outreach via a website, brochure and project display.