Lake Erie Panel Approves 'Dredge to Farm' Research

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Posted October 1, 2018

The Ohio Lake Erie Commission approved funding for two $50,000 proposals aiming to study potentially beneficial uses for dredged material instead of just dumping it in Lake Erie.

Based on Ohio’s Senate Bill 1, which was signed into law in 2015, the state is not to take any dredged material from federal navigation channels and allow it to be disposed of or dumped in the lake starting July 1, 2020.

“We’ve taken that deadline very seriously because there is a huge amount of material that we’re dealing with,” said Craig Butler, director of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and chair of the Ohio Lake Erie Commission.

The commission held its regular quarterly meeting at the Camp Perry Conference Center near Port Clinton on Tuesday.

About 800,000 to 1 million cubic yards of material comes from the Maumee River alone each year, and about another million combined from other navigation channels, according to Butler.

“The issue is, we would never want to see these not be dredged, not manage this material, so we can keep the ports open for commerce,” Butler said.

With the dredged material containing potential pollutants, such as phosphorus and other residual nutrients, there is a risk of that being redistributed in the lake, he said, so they set out to determine whether the material could be used in a beneficial way.

“One of the primary alternatives we have is to open lake disposal of dredged material to ‘dredge to farm field.’ So, in furtherance of that, we’ve done quite a lot,” said David Emerman, general counsel for the Ohio Lake Erie Commission and administrator of the Ohio EPA’s dredged material program.

The ultimate goal of “dredge to farm” is to figure out the best way to reuse and apply the dredged material to agricultural fields in northwest Ohio.

David Emerman, administrator of Ohio’s dredged material program, discusses plans for the Great Lakes Dredged Material Center for Innovation facility along the Maumee River near Toledo during a meeting of the Ohio Lake Erie Commission on Tuesday. (Photo: Jon Stinchcomb/News Herald)

Among the efforts is the development and construction of the Great Lakes Dredged Material Center for Innovation, a 10-acre site with four cells, 2.5 acres each, which for the past several years have been filled with dredged material from the Maumee River.

The site is now about six-feet-deep with dredged material, according to Emerman.

The Ohio Lake Erie Commission also formed the “Dredge Research and Innovation in Farming Team,” which consists of farmers, industry, local entities and others to help tackle the issue.

The team made the selection of the two research proposals to be funded through the Lake Erie Protection Fund grant each at $50,000, which was approved by the commission on Tuesday.

The first study by Bowling Green State University is going to evaluate corn yield, metal uptake and nutrient runoff of various proportions of dredged material and native soils.

“They will be mixing the dredged material with different portions of native farm soil to determine what is the best ratio of dredge-to-farm soil for yield and other nutrient benefits,” Emerman said.

The second study by Wright State University is going to research whether cover crops improve beneficial microorganisms and reduce contaminants in dredged material, a focus on risk avoidance.

“They pair up very nicely together,” Emerman said of the two proposed studies.

Source: Port Clinton