By Jessica Keith
A housing development sprouts up alongside a river. A grocery store replaces a wetland. A storm water sewer empties into a stream. Each time people develop natural areas and alter the earth’s natural water drainage system our water supply feels the effect.
Where rainwater once soaked into the soil and slowly made its way into a waterway, impervious surfaces like parking lots and roofs now shed the water quickly, generating overwhelming water surges that can alter a river’s natural flow. During the summer the opposite is true; without “stored” water from the earth slowly trickling into a waterway, water flows can become dangerously low.
Too much or too little water flowing into a stream can harm the habitats that aquatic plants and animals need to survive. In addition to causing physical damage to a waterway, runoff from developed areas carries pollutants that can weaken the aquatic life.
Freshwater health is critical to people in northern Ohio, where rivers empty into one of the world’s most important sources of fresh water – Lake Erie.
That’s why The Nature Conservancy is spearheading research efforts to quantify the connection between development and damage to aquatic life in the region. The results of the study of nearly 20 years of data will be used to encourage officials in the Lake Erie Basin to protect the natural flow of waterways.
The research coincides with efforts to implement the recently passed Great Lakes Compact--a basin-wide agreement that establishes water withdrawal principles and ensures authority over the lake’s waters remains in the region. Efforts now are under way for states within the Basin to adopt policies that meet the water quality standards set by the Compact.
In order to meet the Compact’s requirements, the state of Ohio has developed an Advisory Council comprised of a group of experts and stakeholders to make recommendations on how best to govern water withdrawals in the region.
“The Conservancy’s water flow research will help to inform this process,” says Josh Knights, executive director for the Conservancy in Ohio, who sits on the Compact’s Advisory Council for the state. “We hope to find the sweet spot between water consumption and conservation in Ohio’s streams.”
The Conservancy is one of five organizations on the Advisory Council representing the environment, and is the only one with significant scientific expertise and on-the-ground projects within Ohio’s portion of the Great Lakes Basin.
“With a seat at the table, we’ll make sure that conservation is taken into meaningful consideration,” Knights says. "
Jessica Keith is a marketing specialist/writer for The Nature Conservancy
November 17, 2010