St. Joseph River Floodplain Reconnection Project

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources kicked off 2021 by breaking ground on the St. Joseph River Floodplain Reconnection Project in Williams County on Jan. 13. The project aims to improve water quality downstream, increase wildlife habitat for endangered species and support local agriculture.

The St. Joseph River used to run crystal clear. While it won’t again any time soon, the Black Swamp Conservancy is taking steps in that direction.

The Conservancy, in conjunction with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, broke ground on a $1.5 million St. Joseph River Floodplain Reconnection Project in Williams County on Jan. 13. It is the first project within Gov. Mike DeWines’ H2Ohio initiative to get underway during the 2021 construction season.

“The launch of this new project shows a strong start for H2Ohio in 2021,” DeWine said. “The acquisition and restoration of these wetlands will contribute to our goals of improving water quality in the Maumee River Watershed and preventing algal blooms in Lake Erie.”

This project by itself will not clear up the St. Joe, “but that’s our ultimate goal,” Rob Krain, executive director of the Black Swamp Conservancy, said in a phone interview with The Bryan Times Monday afternoon. “It will take a lot more that this, but that’s where we’re heading.”

The Black Swamp Conservancy, a regional, non-profit land trust dedicated to protecting and preserving natural and agricultural lands in northwest Ohio, will manage and own the wetland restoration along with a 14-acre working farm site.

“Some of it is already natural habitat and we want to restore another 56 acres,” Krain said. “The bulk of it is wetlands and flood plain. We’re also going to convert a channelized agricultural ditch back into a functional stream.

“Ohio, and Williams County in particular, is home to some really interesting wildlife species,” he said. “The copperbelly water snake, the Indiana bat, beaver populations up and down the river and state- and federally-endangered mollusks.”

The project’s farm site is also intended to support local agriculture.

“That will be part of the Food and Farm initiative to help young beginning farmers get access to land,” he said. “Our focus is to grow food for local consumption, whether it’s direct to consumers, farmers markets or community-supported agriculture.

“We’re not going to require organic certification but we are looking for applicants who will farm in an ecologically sensitive manner,” he said. “If somebody is looking to grow organic it would certainly be a bonus.

“It will be a rent situation, but at a significantly lower rate,” Krain said. “We’re just looking to cover our property taxes and insurance while helping a young farmer get started. We want it to be a win-win overall.”

To learn more about the initiative or submit a land seeker application, go to http://blackswamp.org/food-and-farm/.

Krain said he expects construction to be done in six weeks, weather dependent.

“This project is just the first step in big plans we have for the H2Ohio initiative in the coming year,” said ODNR Director Mary Mertz. “With strong partnerships, like we have on the St. Joseph project, we will be able to accomplish even more moving forward.”

Other H2Ohio wetland projects getting underway this year include the Redhorse Bend Preserve in Sandusky County, the Forder Bridge Project in Paulding County, the Fruth Wetland Nature Preserve in Seneca County, the Van Order Wetland and Forest Restoration in Henry County, the wetland area east of the Andreoff Wildlife Area in Wyandot County and Sandusky Headwaters Preserve in Crawford County.

H2Ohio is DeWine’s initiative to ensure safe and clean water in Ohio. The state says it is a comprehensive, data-driven approach to improving water quality over the long term. H2Ohio focuses on encouraging agricultural best management practices, restoring and enhancing wetlands and replacing home septic systems to reduce nutrients that contribute to harmful algal blooms.

For more information on the H2Ohio initiative, visit h2.ohio.gov.

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