Speaker: Heavier rains cause problems

Most of the human experience with water on the landscape is to get it away from the surface as quickly as possible, according to Robert Barr of the Center for Earth and Environmental Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Institute.

Barr, a researcher and instructor at the center near Indianapolis, spoke Wednesday at the Sandusky River Watershed Coalition’s annual meeting at the Mohawk Community Center, Sycamore, outlining his work with agricultural best management practices in the Upper White River and Eagle Creek watersheds and how the information might benefit the Sandusky River watershed.

“For 100 years, we’ve been trying to move the water off the landscape as quickly as possible and now we’re getting more heavy rain events,” Barr said. “For most of the of the last five years we’re talking an increase in heavy rains at the end of January and early February when there is no vegetation on the land.” He attributes the 27 percent increase between 1958 and 2007 to climate change.

In 2011, Barr said there were 58 federal flood disaster declarations in 33 states, resulting in almost $8 billion in losses.

“Water quality and quantity are not separate issues,” he said. Heavy rain events are the main cause of nutrient loading.

“Despite billions of dollars of programs, the overall accomplishments have been not what we want,” he said.

And Barr said lots of water also moves farm chemicals into streams.

He said research is showing a combination of Atrazine herbicide and glyphosate may be aggravating the “dead zones” in large bodies of water – the Gulf of Mexico in the Indianapolis area and Lake Erie in the Sandusky River area.

“You have the privilege of having a quarter of the world’s fresh water supply sitting at your doorstep,” he said. “It’s gets a lot of publicity.”

Although problems continue with nutrient loading into streams, Barr said his area is conducting a research project to test how the use of cover crops can help alleviate runoff by increasing filtration capacity.

In addition, he said frequent heavy rains also are changing the flow of streams.

“How much room do we need to give these streams?,” he said. “Six to eight times their width because that’s how much room they need to stabilize. If they don’t have it, they’re going to cut into something. You’re going to lose a lot of expensive homes and lose farm ground.”

So far, he said “band aids” used to “fix” problems have resulted in further problems.

“The only people benefitting from that is the lawyers,” he said.

Also during the annual meeting, coordinator Cindy Brookes reviewed her activities from the year such as speaking to groups and county officials throughout the watershed, writing grants, administering programs, doing paperwork for home sewage treatment system grants and coordinating tours.

She encouraged people to get involved with SRWC committees for land use and resource management, water supply and wastewater and education and development.

“All except steering committee are open to anybody who lives or works in the watershed,” she said.

In 2012-13, the coalition and Heidelberg University’s National Center for Water Quality Research received a grant for $591,655 to verify and enhance an online nutrient tracking tool with a suite of best management practices to help farmers determine the best combinations for their fields.

Rem Confessor of NCWQR said the watershed is to be a pilot project for a program to be available in the entire Great Lakes region in the future.

Through Sept. 30, 2016, he said watershed farmers can use a computer model where they can input various scenarios and get estimates of yield, nutrient loss and other information.

Confessor said the grant is to help promote and train producers to use the system, hire a technician to work with counties in the program and discover if the model provides accurate answers between what producers input into the model and what they actually experience.

The coalition also received a $56,000 grant to repair or replace home sewage treatment systems for low-income residents in Seneca, Sandusky and Wyandot counties.

Members approved by acclimation a slate of steering committee members that includes new at-large members Mary Dennis and Laura Wallrabstien, as well re-election of Mike Hall of Crawford County, Jack Leslie of Wyandot County, Tim White of Erie County and at-large members Juan Garza, Kate Siefert and John Willey.

Bob England of the Erie County Health Department takes over as chairman.

Also on the board are Don Ralph of Hardin/Marion counties, Joe Perry of Sandusky County, Rem Confessor of Seneca County and at-large members Dwight Clary and Lisa Clary.

Awards were presented to Heritage Cooperative as outstanding donor and outgoing chairwoman Kate Siefert for outstanding service.

The group heard details on a concert planned in late June as a coalition fundraiser.

Sandy Helgeson explained how the “Nashville Hitmakers” concert has worked to raise funds in the Indian Lake area and why it is being expanded into the Sandusky River area.

“Even Stevens is my brother,” she said. Stevens, who wrote “When You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman,” as well as seven other song writers plan to be on stage at the Ritz Theatre June 28.

“It’s not a normal concert where you sit there and watch guys on the stage,” she said. “It’s interactive. You can talk to them and they tell how they were inspired to write hit songs.”

Helgeson said she and Stevens grew up in Logan County and created the idea for the fundraiser several years ago. However, she said they lived in Wyandot County for three years and decided to expand the fundraiser to the Sandusky River area.

She said the Buckeye Lake area averages $25,000 per year in profit. The coalition is seeking sponsors for the event.