By Nancy Allen
A meeting with the state's top conservationist has given officials trying to clean up Grand Lake reason for hope in the form of millions of dollars available for the possible endeavor.
Now it's just a matter of getting Congressional leaders to take notice, a member of the private Lake Development Corporation (LDC) said Monday.
LDC member Greg Schumm reported at the group's regular meeting Monday that he and other lake officials met earlier that day with Terry Cosby, the state conservationist for the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).
"NRCS has money available for what we want to do, and we're not talking thousands, we're talking millions," Schumm said. "But Mr. Cosby said he can't respond with any money until he hears from a Congressional source," Schumm said, mentioning 8th district U.S. Rep. John Boehner, (R-Hamilton), and 4th district U.S. Rep. Mike Oxley, R-Findlay, by name.
"The LDC needs to be aggressive to get these folks (Boehner and Oxley) to help the community get money to help the lake," Schumm said. Schumm said Cosby is well aware of water quality problems in the 13,500-acre lake and in the creeks and streams in the 71,862-acre highly agriculture-based watershed area that drains into the lake.
Most of the problems are caused by excessive nutrients from manure and commercial fertilizers that run off, along with soil, from farm fields. Eighty-two percent of the land area in the watershed is cropland and Mercer County, where most of the watershed land area lies, is home to the highest concentration of large livestock operations in the state.
Excessive nutrients cause excessive blue-green algae blooms in the lake. The algae feeds on the nutrients and then the algae grows, dies and decomposes, choking off oxygen for fish and other aquatic life. The algae is what gives the lake its characteristic cloudy, greenish color.
Schumm said lake officials plant to meet in October with individuals Cosby plans to put them in touch with to discuss available NRCS funds. Lake officials have talked about using funds to purchase permanent easements around the lake to build wetlands and grass-covered filter strips and placing riprap (rocks) along the lakeshore to decrease bank soil erosion. Both wetlands and filter strips located around the lake would decrease the amount of sediment and attached nutrients that gets into the lake.
Schumm urged the LDC and others concerned with lake water quality to do all they can to go after the funds, especially with recent news that two funding requests aren't going to happen.
Lake officials learned last week that two requests for federal funds totaling $1.8 million for Grand Lake water quality improvements were nixed due to budget cuts, but the fate of a third $900,000 request from the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service remains in limbo. Lake officials enlisted the help of Oxley who lobbied for those funds.