LANSING, Mich., Sept. 15, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- The Nature Conservancy, in partnership with The Ohio State University, Texas A&M University, the USDA Agricultural Research Service and Ohio Sea Grant, recently completed a four-year project that was funded through the Wildlife Component of the Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP-Wildlife). The project focused on understanding and modeling the potential benefits of agricultural conservation practices to stream water quality and fish communities throughout the western Lake Erie basin watershed.
"Harmful algal blooms in western Lake Erie are certainly an important problem that must be addressed and are getting all of the attention. However, people often forget that western Lake Erie is fed by thousands of miles of stream that are essentially the "arteries" of the lake. Our project focused on these arteries, which are important in their own right and are more directly connected to the source of the problems we are experiencing in western Lake Erie," said Scott Sowa, Director of Science in Michigan for The Nature Conservancy.
The study found that stream fish communities are being negatively affected by multiple water quality factors, including phosphorus, nitrogen and sediments. "This is an important finding since we tend to think of phosphorus as the only problem, and it really isn't the only one affecting fish," said Bill Stanley, Assistant State Director for The Nature Conservancy in Ohio. "We can't focus solely on phosphorus. We also have to reduce nitrogen and sediment losses. Widespread adoption of traditional conservation practices will help a lot, but we also need to restore some wetlands and stream banks in areas that aren't suited for growing crops," noted Stanley.
Although this study primarily focused on streams, it also used computer model simulations to assess the ability of various conservation management scenarios to achieve the recommended 40% total phosphorus reduction goal for western Lake Erie. Results suggest meeting this goal is achievable by keeping current conservation practices in place and targeted treatment of approximately 50% of cropland with a combination of management practices. However, these same management scenarios suggest fish communities would still be limited by excess sediments and nutrients in a high percentage of western Lake Erie basin streams.
"What this result means is that, if we define success as only meeting the phosphorus reduction goals for the lake, we will fall far short of addressing the water quality problems that are impairing stream-fish communities in western Lake Erie's watershed," said Stuart Ludsin, an Associate Professor in and Co-director of Ohio State University's Aquatic Ecology Laboratory in Columbus.
Results from this study can help inform management solutions for the streams and the lake, just as a related CEAP-Wildlife study is currently doing for management efforts across Saginaw Bay (nature.org/saginawrcpp). Results of this study make it clear that we cannot just focus all of our attention only on western Lake Erie.
"We have to find 'win-win' management solutions that simultaneously achieve stream health and Western Lake Erie nutrient reduction goals. Our study can help inform those solutions," said Conor Keitzer, a first-year Assistant Professor at Tusculum College who worked on this research project as a post-doctoral scientist at Ohio State University.
"Ultimately though, we must find win-win-win solutions that also consider the potential socioeconomic impacts of management scenarios on producers, consumers and the rest of the agricultural supply chain," added Sowa.
To learn more about this project and obtain a copy the full project report and associated publications, visit www.lakeerieceap.com.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to conserve the lands and waters upon which all life depends. In the Great Lakes region, the Conservancy works to make this among the most effectively managed ecosystems on Earth by protecting and restoring watersheds, forests, coastal areas and native fisheries. For more information, visit http://nature.org/michigan.
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SOURCE The Nature Conservancy