Each year, on the average, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers spends approximately $2.2 million to dredge 850,000 cubic yards of sediment from Toledo Harbor. The dredging is very costly and disposal of the dredged material creates environmental problems. Currently the material is disposed of either by confinement in disposal facilities, or by open lake dumping. These practices are expensive and/or environmentally sensitive.
An interagency study team has recommended a multi-part plan to reduce the dredging problem. One component of the plan is an extensive land treatment erosion control program to reduce the source of sediment. The goal for the agricultural component of the program is to reduce dredging by 130,000 cubic yards or 15%. In 1995 the Corps and the Natural Resources Conservation Service entered into a partnership and a two year pilot project to demonstrate the effectiveness of such an approach.
The pilot project provided $700,00 in Corps of Engineers funding to NRCS. Funds were utilized provided to individual counties to develop locally led sediment reduction strategies and to implement sediment reduction activities. Over 22 counties in the Maumee Watershed participated. Counties used the funding to promote conservation tillage and other practices which would reduce sediment delivery to the harbor.
Analysis of conservation tillage trends for the project period showed that project counties had higher rates of conservation tillage than all Ohio counties. The analysis showed conservation tillage rates continued to increase within the project counties, at the same time they were leveling off or declining in non project counties. Based on increasing conservation tillage acres, the report predicts that sediment reduction is currently at 53% of the goals as compared to the 1992 base condition. Approximately half of the goal still remains to be achieved.
During the project period two independent studies were released which supported the project approach and cost effectiveness. The Lake Erie Agricultural Systems For Environmental Quality Study, by Heidleberg College and others, confirmed that increasing conservation tillage acres in the Maumee Watershed is resulting in decreased sediment concentrations in the Maumee River. An economic analysis conducted by Ohio State University projected that a 15% reduction in dredging would result in an annual savings of $1.3 million in reduced dredging and confined disposal facility costs.
As part of the pilot project NRCS prepared a detailed analysis of the effect of Conservation Buffers on sediment reduction in the harbor. The analysis concluded that widespread implementation of the conservation buffer practices within the watershed could provide 29,000 cubic yards of sediment reduction to help meet project goals. Conservation buffers are new tools which should be incorporated into future project plans to increase project effectiveness.
The project report concludes that two years in not enough time to effect the long term changes needed to see actual results in the harbor. It proposes full implementation of the long term Soil Conservation Program plan as contained in the Phase III report. The report recommends a six year project funded at the levels originally proposed as part of the Phase III report, with additional funding to accelerate the Conservation Buffer Initiative within the watershed. The report also proposes a Trust Fund for the Harbor to maintain project accomplishments long term.