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Restoring a Healthy Western Lake Erie Basin

The Western Lake Erie Basin is a hotspot for trophy fish, migratory birds and outdoor enthusiasts.

As the shallowest and warmest of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie is also the most fertile, producing more fish at times than the other Great Lakes combined.

The lake’s western basin, which averages about 24 feet, is where Lake Erie’s productivity reaches its zenith. It is a hot spot for sport fishing enthusiasts chasing trophy walleye, boating, duck hunting, bird-watching and other recreational pursuits.

The Nature Conservancy is working with agriculture, business, government and citizens to improve the quality of the water flowing into Western Lake Erie from tributary streams and restore the health of coastal wetlands. Our goal is a healthy, resilient system that provides clean drinking water, habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife and world class fishing and recreation opportunities today and far into the future.

Troubled Wetlands and Waters

Spanning 8.3 million acres in the U.S., Western Lake Erie Basin encompasses parts of Indiana, Michigan and Ohio. Most of the land was converted to agriculture or industrial and other urban uses long ago.

Just five percent of the basin’s wetlands remain today, and most were diked to protect them from the erosive forces of wind and waves. Very little of the basin is still forested. Threats to the basin’s health include:

  • Increased levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, which have led to massive algae blooms that are causing fish kills, fouled beaches and a growing dead zone in the central basin.
  • Changes in land use, which have altered water flow, making catastrophic flooding in the tributaries more common as severe storm events increase.
  • Invasive species such as Phragmites, or common reed, which are outcompeting native plants, reducing food and shelter for wildlife and changing water flow.
The Nature Conservancy in the Western Basin

The Nature Conservancy has a long history of land protection and restoration in the basin. We are building on that work and expanding it to encompass the entire basin from headwaters to open water.

Working with Agriculture: We are working with farmers and using science to target conservation practices where they will most effectively reduce nutrient and soil loss and improve drainage.

Restoring and Reconnecting Coastal Wetlands: We are collaborating with multiple partners to protect, restore and expand the remaining coastal wetlands and, where feasible and most beneficial, reconnect them to the open waters of Lake Erie.

Planning for a Healthy Basin: We are engaging people in developing a vision for a healthy Western Lake Erie Basin. Our planning efforts include:

  • A comprehensive coastal conservation strategy where landowners will take action to restore the wetlands around the western shore of Lake Erie.
  • A complimentary project with the NOAA Restoration Center to determine which restoration projects in the Maumee River Area of Concern will be most effective at improving fish and wildlife populations and habitat.
  • A biodiversity plan for Lake Erie that brings people together to determine how conservation efforts across the lake can be more effectively accomplished and recommends specific conservation actions.

We’re working to restore the health of Western Lake Erie Basin, and you can help. With your support, we can restore a dynamic, functioning system that meets the needs of people while maintaining the its own health and resilience.
 

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