The Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), in collaboration with the Black Swamp Conservancy, broke ground on a new H2Ohio wetland project in Williams County last week.

The project, called the St. Joseph Confluence Reconnection, is located east of the U.S. 20 and U.S. 20A intersection, south of Pioneer. Work will include the decommission of subsurface drainage tiles, restoration of wetlands, removal of dikes and reforestation.

“The St. Joseph project will be a collaborative effort with long-term benefits,” said ODNR Director Mary Mertz. “Once complete, this project will help to improve water quality in the Maumee River Watershed and make a more stable ecosystem for native species.”

H2Ohio funding will be used for 11.47 acres of reforestation and 35.75 acres of wetland restoration on the 140-acre property, which was purchased by the Black Swamp Conservancy in January 2020 using the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Water Resources Restoration Sponsor Program (WRRSP).

ODNR said removing dikes and restoring floodplain wetlands with native vegetation will capture nutrient laden floodwaters from the St. Joseph River and its tributaries on the property. Restoring deciduous forest will provide benefits to wildlife and absorb rainfall from storm events.

The restored wetlands will also enhance the habitat for the federally threatened copperbelly water snake. The reptiles, found in parts of Michigan, Indiana and Ohio, need shallow wetlands along the edges of larger wetlands complexes where they can hunt for frogs. They have been threatened since 1996.

Christina Kuchle, ODNR’s northwest Ohio scenic river manager, said this particular site was chosen because “several streams, and the St. Joseph River, flow through this property. Thus, restoring wetlands provides an opportunity for nutrient laden floodwaters from those streams to be filtered while utilizing a minimal amount of land.”

ODNR will be working with Black Swamp Conservancy, a regional, non-profit land trust dedicated to protecting and preserving natural and agricultural lands in northwest Ohio, to complete this project at an estimated cost of $730,000.

“We are thrilled to partner with ODNR on this important restoration project,” said Rob Krain, executive director for Black Swamp Conservancy. “This project expands upon existing high-quality wetlands on the property, enhancing critical wildlife habitat, and improving water quality in our community.”

H2Ohio is Gov. Mike DeWine’s initiative that aims to ensure safe and clean water in Ohio, focused specifically on reducing phosphorus, creating wetlands, addressing failing septic systems and preventing lead contamination.

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