BREAKOUT GROUP DISCUSSIONS OF WATERSHED ISSUES

The aim of the breakout sessions was to celebrate and discuss progress and activities in the Black River watershed. Sessions were intended to consider the roles of various stakeholder groups in the progress that has been made and in what remains to be done. Thus, breakout sessions included:

  1. the role of the agricultural community in river protection;
  2. the role of the homeowner in river protection;
  3. the role of local government officials in river protection; and
  4. the role of the river/riparian land owners in river restoration.

Other breakout sessions addressed the following topics:

  1. sustaining public interest in the RAP process;
  2. sustaining environmental monitoring to measure progress, and
  3. stormwater management issues.

Each session was asked to address two questions:

  1. What progress has been made and needs to be communicated as an incentive to further action?
  2. What key obstacles exist to further progress and what needs to be done to overcome these obstacles?

Each session was well attended and a number of interesting ideas and recommendations for future action were offered. Detailed summaries of the breakout sessions follow.

The Role of the Agricultural Community in River Protection

At the start of the breakout session, a short slide presentation was given on the contributions of the agricultural community to improvements in water quality in the Black River watershed. Roughly half of the watershed is utilized for agricultural purposes, with Lorain County as one of the top agricultural producers in Ohio. The majority of the agricultural production is located in the upper watershed, south of the City of Elyria, in the area drained by the East and West Branches of the Black River. Participants noted that one of the basic issues facing watershed farmers is the problem of water quality versus water quantity. The soils in the watershed drain very slowly and the flat topography contributes to poor drainage. The solution to this problem has been the installation of millions of feet of field tile, which in turn can contribute to increased flow to streams leading to higher erosion rates and other water quality problems. A second issue facing the agricultural community is the problem of removing land from production to allow for riparian buffer zones between cropland and ditches, streams, and tributaries.

It was recognized that farmers in the area have participated in a variety of programs and projects that have helped improve water quality in recent years. In 1992 a $200,000 federally funded farm equipment buy down program allowed area farmers to save money on purchasing low or no till farm equipment. The Ohio EPA approved a $15 million (over 5 years) low-interest loan program for nonpoint source pollution abatement activities in the Black River watershed in 1995. This program allows agricultural producers and other land owners to obtain loans at 2-3 % below market rate for the purchase of conservation tillage and waste management equipment, installation of erosion control practices, and implementation of riparian area management, farm chemical management, and new water quality technologies. These programs have resulted in over 100 acres of installed grassed buffer strips in the area. In 1998 a Precision Farming Program was being initiated on 8,000 acres in the watershed as part of a $300,000 Section 319 grant. Around 2,500 acres of land have been enrolled in the Conservation Resource Program, removing them from agricultural production. Additionally, several old fields in riparian areas have been converted or returned to functioning wetland areas.

Although these programs and projects have been relatively successful, had good buy-in from the agricultural community, and contributed to improved water quality in the Black River, it was estimated that less than 10% of the improvements needed have been instituted. Obstacles to achieving more success in this area include the following:

Breakout session participants agreed that more and better education of the agricultural community is key to overcoming many of these obstacles. Providing farmers and their associates with good, up-to-date information on the economic and environmental impacts and benefits from their participation in water quality improvement programs and projects is critical in achieving further improvements in the Black River watershed. Suggested strategies for accomplishing this included:

The Role of Home Owners in River Protection

This breakout session included an overview of what has been accomplished in the watershed by the various partners over the past few years. The participants recognized the successes in the reduction of point source pollutants through the upgrading of the various community wastewater treatment plants, improved pollution prevention activities by local industries, recycling, and waste stream reduction activities. It was agreed that future improvements in the water quality of the Black River will have to include the home owner and general public becoming actively involved in river protection activities. It was also agreed that the public needs to embrace the watershed system as a valuable resource to change the behaviors that create problems for the watershed.

The discussion centered on the premise that much of what can be done for the protection of the river will involve changing individual and community behaviors. However, before behaviors can be changed the attitudes regarding the value and purpose of a watershed system must move beyond an attitude that sees the river as just a conduit of water off of the land. The participants recognized the following must be done to change the general public's perception of the watershed:

Specific suggestions from breakout session participants to address key issues are presented in Table 1.

The Black River Watershed has been a significant asset to the history and economic vitality of Lorain County and Northern Ohio. As communities, we have used this asset for improving our lives. As such, we must recognize and value this source of vitality to our communities.

Table 1. Suggestions for engaging communities and home owners in support of the river.

ISSUE SUGGESTION
The River needs to be promoted as a valuable resource to home owners and land owners to get lasting behavior changes that protect the watershed Target population groups:
School Education:
  • Develop age-appropriate educational techniques
  • Use specific and tangible methods (Hands On)
  • Teach an environmental ethic and promote the Black River as a valuable resource

Home Owner/General Public:
  • Use print and electronic media to inform the public
  • Promote River events to provide the public with visual and tactile experiences on the river
Increase the amount of advocacy for the River
  • Support community involvement in the RAP process
  • Stimulate volunteer activities on the River
  • Support clean up activities
  • Encourage individuals to support local land use planning, nonpoint source pollution reduction efforts, and storm water management activities
  • Promote home owner pollution prevention programs
  • Promote better access to the River
Public policy must account for the impacts of proposed actions on the watershed; policy makers must act on behalf of the watershed
  • Regulatory methods should be considered to control nonpoint pollutants such as home sewage disposal systems, animal waste, construction site, and stormwater runoff
Provide home owners the tools to protect the riparian zones of the river
  • Use agency resources to encourage home owners to be involved in pollution prevention (Solid Waste District, Health Departments, Soil and Water Districts, U.S. Department of Agriculture, EPA, etc.)
  • Promote Conservation Easements and Wetland Reserve Programs
  • Support tax abatements for those land owners that protect the riparian zones

The Role of Local Government Officials in River Protection

Ron Twining, Planner III/Acting Director of Lorain County Community Development Department, provided an overview of Lorain County's efforts in working with Carlisle Township on a natural resource-based, comprehensive, land use plan and model zoning study. Carlisle Township was selected since it is located in the near geographic center of Lorain County; it contains extensive lengths of both the east and west branches of the Black River. The Township is experiencing development pressures in the north from the urbanized areas. To the south, the Township remains predominately rural, with agriculture as its primary industry; however, two years ago the last dairy farm sold its herd and ceased operation. A four-lane divided highway splits the Township in two. Politically the Township has children attending four different school districts. The majority of soils are poor with several sand ridges that have proven to be highly desired both by farmers and developers.

All that is good in Lorain County's future, as well as the least desirable elements of our environment, are present in Carlisle. Farmland is being lost to residential development at the same rate in both Carlisle and the remainder of the rural parts of Lorain County. Funds provided by the Lake Erie Protection Fund will be used to study methods of evaluating proposed developments and the resulting impacts on the natural environment. This project is just getting started, but holds much promise for the water quality of the Black River if the proposed policies are implemented in Carlisle and other locations.

The Carlisle Township project was shared with breakout session participants as a means of showing the leadership role Lorain County government is attempting to take with township development. Key issues and concerns raised by breakout session participants included the following:

The Role of River/Riparian Land Owners in River Restoration

This breakout session was initiated with brief presentations on the conceptual basis for and practical techniques of river restoration by riparian land owners. Participants agreed that there is a need to get more landowner buy-in for riparian land protection and management. To be able to get this buy-in, we must increase public awareness of riparian functions and benefits. For example, rivers need to move and there are many benefits derived from natural floodplains and hydrological cycles. More effort needs to be placed on improving landowner sensitivity and awareness of the river ecosystem and their connection to it. People need to engage themselves with the river. Once people are engaged, they will become more knowledgeable and aware, and hopefully adjust their actions accordingly. Different approaches for engagement and action will be required for urban and rural areas.

Breakout session participants recognized that although much has been accomplished, much remains to be done. For example, much needs to be done to:

In certain situations (e.g., urban areas), there may be a need for regulation or at least the threat of regulation to bring about the necessary changes. Following discussion of these issues, participants identified obstacles to further progress and provided suggestions of how to overcome the obstacles (Table 2). Participants felt that if action was taken on these suggestions to overcome obstacles, it would help build the capacity for ecosystem-based management of the watershed. An important implementation tool will be the Urban Streams Program being implemented in selected Soil and Water Conservation Districts as part of Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Coastal Management Plan for Lake Erie. Urban stream specialists have been hired to work with landowners on critical riparian/river areas in need of protection and restoration.

Table 2. Suggestions to overcome obstacles to effective river restoration by riparian land owners.

OBSTACLE SUGGESTIONS TO OVERCOME OBSTACLE
Limited knowledge and understanding of technology for riparian preservation and restoration Increase education, awareness, and involvement
Insufficient resources Inventory needs and available resources; create opportunities through partnerships
Apathy Increase education, marketing, and learning by doing; apply "Tom Sawyer" philosophy
Engineering obsession with right angles (e.g., streams meander naturally) Convene workshops to educate engineers and planners; educate next generation of engineers and planners about ecosystems and natural design
Obsession with tidiness and manicured appearance of floodplains and riparian corridors Redirect energies to other locations and projects; find suitable alternatives
Not knowing "What's in it for me?" Quantify benefits and communicate them in understandable terms; increase education
Resistance to change (old school vs. new school) Promote demonstration projects; encourage biologically-based management actions; increase education and outreach
Thinking only in "The Box" Make "The Box" bigger; demonstrate and communicate successes
Fear of change Clearly present alternatives and demonstrate benefits to change
Lack of political will Build consensus; invite everyone to "the dinner"
Lack of sharp teeth (e.g., threat of regulation) Find creative ways to encourage rather than require; promote greater education, outreach, technology transfer, benefits transfer, and use of financial incentives

Sustaining Public Involvement in the Remedial Action Plan Process

This breakout session was initiated with a brief presentation on the nature of public involvement in the RAP process. In the case of the Black River RAP, an interested public helped create a community-led effort to focus on restoring the Black River basin. While progress has been made, continued involvement of many citizens, and particularly those who live or own property along the river, is critical.

It was noted that there are various types of public involvement in the Black River RAP, including:

Participants noted that each RAP is unique and at a different stage of development. Three primary models were discussed:

  1. some RAPs operate as a coalition of separate groups, whose activities, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not, coincide with the goals and agenda of the RAP;
  2. some RAPs have a strong citizen component, with the public very actively involved; and
  3. a few RAPs emphasize, and wait upon, regulatory action as the basis for remediation of problems.

Participants agreed that sustaining public interest and involvement was crucial for a successful RAP process, and shared information on how they have seen this done. Suggested involvement strategies include:

  • developing a strategy to "market" the RAP to the public (i.e., we need to learn how to market better and smarter);
  • identifying common problems throughout the target area and building public/private partnerships;
  • creating a waterfront park to get people down to the river;
  • investing in capacity building of citizen groups and helping them with networking and fund raising;
  • stressing the connection between urban and rural areas; and
  • making the linkage between river protection/restoration and economic development.

    The breakout group listed activities that have proven to be successful in efforts to get people involved in river protection/restoration. Examples of such activities include:

    The breakout session concluded with the group summarizing its advice regarding sustaining public involvement in the RAP process into three key findings:

    Sustaining Environmental Monitoring to Measure Progress

    This breakout session began with an overview of Ohio EPA's monitoring programs. It was observed that monitoring is important because it links actions (that are made) to knowledge of conditions in the river. Ohio has been a leader in the use of biological indicators and has followed a watershed approach to intensive monitoring programs. The state schedules monitoring so that each major watershed in the state is investigated on a five year cycle. The state continues to have limited resources to conduct these investigations, so the trend is downward.

    A second presentation discussed current monitoring activities by citizen volunteers in the watershed. Some frustration was expressed that substantial data had been collected, but never compiled.

    The discussion in this breakout group centered primarily on the need to make volunteer citizen monitoring efforts more useful. It was agreed that voluntary monitoring has several uses. One goal is to sustain interest in river conditions. It needs to be recognized that citizen volunteers are not going to be able to replicate scientific techniques required for scientific or regulatory purposes. Some parameters are more appropriate than others in this context. For example, macroinvertebrate data collection by citizen volunteers is a good focus because it can produce meaningful information with a limited investment in training and deployment of resources.

    Models for citizen data collection from around the country should be looked at. Simplified testing and training processes are available, as are simplified approaches to quality assurance and quality control. The U.S. Geological Survey has such a model.

    There are several good examples available of how citizens can be involved in a process for river cleanup, providing useful information to public authorities. For example, there is a good river monitoring model in the Hamilton Harbour (Ontario) area.

    There is a need to clarify the purposes of volunteer monitoring. It is for education? Is it to facilitate cleanups?

    The discussion also focused on the question of what constitutes an adequate monitoring program for regulatory purposes. U.S. EPA has one model. Reports of river conditions vary considerably among states. Some reports present sketchy results on a very large percentage of their water bodies. Others are more conservative.

    Most states rely almost exclusively on chemical data to assess in-stream conditions. Ohio is one of the few that relies significantly on biological monitoring. This approach is lower in cost and can discern trends that are not susceptible to chemical data analysis. Chemical monitoring has valuable uses. It is best in stable, low flow conditions and can effectively be used to assess point source discharges. Biological monitoring is a relatively new concept. Some states do this monitoring, but don't incorporate the criteria in water quality standards.

    One important need is to develop an integrated biological monitoring program around the Great Lakes. The states, provinces, and federal governments should establish long-term monitoring sites in the Great Lakes that track consistent biomarkers.

    Citizens should understand that, in the case of a suspected discharge, the analysis needed is resource intensive, well beyond that which citizens volunteers can muster. One area where citizen volunteers can help is to monitor sediments in tributaries to help determine where sediment loads are coming from ("mud-watchers"). Citizens can also help keep an eye on other stream conditions. Procedures should be developed for "telling on a stream" and reporting this to Ohio EPA. There has been some positive experience in training city workers to do this, for example.

    Guidelines are needed that enable citizen monitors to register observations in such a way that agency follow-up is made easier. Procedures on documenting "what, where, and when" are needed that can be linked to follow-up steps.

    A long-term commitment to protect the quality of the habitat could be a useful focus for monitoring by citizen volunteers. The citizens' Qualitative Habitat Evaluation Index or QHEI, under development in Ohio, is one useful tool.

    More discussion is needed on how volunteer monitoring impacts the decision-maker. It was pointed out that volunteer monitors sometimes lost interest when their educational goals had been fulfilled because they rarely saw the impact of their work on stream health.

    Making data collected by state agencies more accessible, such as the 305(b) report, would also be useful. The IJC did a resource analysis recently showing increasing levels of effort in regards to monitoring. There is a perspective that funds for monitoring are always at risk unless they are visibly tied to actions.

    State health department data on bacteria levels in public bathing waters is hard to use. There are initiatives underway in Ohio to collect more useful data in this arena.

    Breakout session participants summarized the current state of monitoring as follows:

    Breakout session participants provided the following advice on the direction of future monitoring in the watershed:

    Stormwater Management Issues

    This breakout session was initiated with brief introductory presentations from Lorain County Engineer Ken Carney and Professor Phil De Groot of Cleveland State University. Ken Carney explained how staff from his office are inventorying every drainage outlet and stream in Lorain County for prioritizing future improvements and fund expenditures. He also noted the progress in making determinations on 17 new large stormwater detention facilities.

    Phil De Groot related the conflicting interests at work at the local level that actually cause improper stormwater management decisions. He also avowed how simple it is to correct many of the stormwater management problems. It was noted Ohio lacks continuing education requirements for licensed professional engineers and that Ohio universities have limited hydrology course work requirements for engineering students.

    Following the introductory presentations, a facilitated discussion was held on what could be done to address stormwater management issues. Suggestions from breakout group participants included:

    Breakout session participants recommended that the RAP can and should embrace these concepts.