When warmer weather hits northern Ohio, algal blooms usually move to the forefront of discussions between lawmakers, local officials and residents.
But workers at the Ottawa Wildlife Refuge, whose goals are focused on helping wildlife, are quietly doing their part to reduce phosphorus and other harmful chemicals that can contribute to algal blooms.
Their plan: allow water to filter naturally through restored Lake Erie wetlands.
“This is a success story,” refuge manager Jason Lewis said. “The wetlands help the environment and help fish and other local wildlife.”
The refuge owns about 10,000 acres, most of which is still considered wetlands, Lewis said.
The refuge is using nearly $4 million in grant funds to restore about 3,000 acres of wetlands along Lake Erie.
Within the last decade, the Ottawa Wildlife Refuge acquired thousands of acres of wetlands, or land that should naturally be wetlands, through partnerships with area agencies.
They have worked to either improve, or restore wetlands to bring health benefits to local wildlife and Lake Erie.
For instance, one section of wetlands, dubbed the Blausey Unit, was acquired in 1999 when it was farm land. The land is about 171 acres and is located near the Toussaint Creek. The unit restoration required about $1.3 million of the total $4 million received in grant funds.
“The Blausey Unit is the iconic end result of what can happen when you restore wetlands,” Lewis said.
The property remained untouched until recent years when the Ottawa Wildlife Refuge revamped the land into what it is today: A lush, green and wet paradise for plants and animals.
“We got a great response from Mother Nature and from the wild life,” Lewis said. “Now we’re here to manage these wetlands, which are important for reducing algal blooms.”
The refuge installed a series of pumps between the Toussaint Creek and the Blausey Unit. The pumps pull water from the creek and deposit it into different areas of the wetlands. Plants, which thrive on phosphorus found in the creek, grow and provide safe havens and food for local wildlife.
From there, the water filters through the wetlands and gets deposited in a waterway which leads to Lake Erie.
“What’s clear is that phosphorus levels in water before it enters the wetlands is significantly higher than when the water leaves the wetlands,” Lewis said.
The refuge didn’t stop the upgrades with the new pump system.
In fact, they installed a fish ladder for fish looking to spawn in the shallow water.
Each level has a small opening where water flows out that the fish can use to swim into the next level. The levels serve as barriers against invasive species and allow native fish to use the wetlands for spawning.
The ladder provided another filter between the wetlands and eventually Lake Erie.
“These connections are essential for the fish, the wetlands and the overall health of the lake,” Lewis said. “Everything is connected. The wildlife rely on wetlands for breeding, and we rely on it to help reduce phosphorus levels.”
Photo: Register photo/LUKE WARK Jason Lewis, manager of the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge in Oak Harbor, looks out over one of the marshes that he and his team at the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service oversee.
View original article at: Ottawa Wildlife Refuge restores wetlands, lowers phosphorus levels