Maumee River

The Maumee River.

Turning on the faucet each morning and pouring a cold glass of water is a luxury residents often don’t think twice about. However, before the glass was filled, the water contained man-made chemicals, algae and agricultural runoff at one point. 

North West Ohio is known for having water with high levels of phosphate. Although phosphate alone is not toxic, high levels of phosphate in water can cause other toxic things to grow.

George Bullerjahn, a professor in the biology department said, “Right now, the biggest issue in our water is agricultural nutrients that runoff off the fields into lakes and reservoirs. This then stimulates toxic algae and bacteria to grow.”

Bullerjahn has been studying microbiology in North West Ohio for over 15 years. He has dedicated his research to toxic producing bacteria and sewage contamination.

North West Ohio is known for its agriculture and farming. The fertilizer used during farming, however, is causing contamination in the water. 

Beth Landers, a district technician at the Wood Soil and Water Conservation District, said contamination can be reduced.

“There are a lot of steps farmers can take that change how much phosphorus leaves their fields,” she said. “They can inject liquid fertilizer, spreading it, then tilling the fertilizer in and put in bumper strips. These strips will absorb phosphorus and keep it in the fields.” 

Water quality graphic

In the past few years, the water treatment plant operations have updated the technology, increasing the purification process. 

Although water quality in North West Ohio is good, scientists are still concerned with the amount of runoff entering our water sources. Increased rainfall due to climate change is another factor contributing to increased runoff. 

H2Ohio is an initiative aiming to reduce harmful algae blooms, contamination, and improve wastewater infrastructure. The program offers farmers funding to improve and change their practices. 

The efforts to reduce phosphorus runoff include soil testing, field buffers, wetlands, cover crops and other various practices. 

Tim Davis, another research professor in the biology department, said “A lot of the best management practices don’t have enough regulation; it is mostly voluntary. H2Ohio is using incentives to try and change farming practices, however these new practices aren’t required.”

Davis has been studying water quality since 2005. The New York native grew up surrounded by the Great Lakes and knew from a young age he wanted to understand and preserve water. 

Davis noted there are not enough regulations set in place for farmers. 

Lauren Niner, executive assistant to the director at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, said it is too soon to see if implementing H2Ohio practices has improved water quality.

“It is too early to see reductions in phosphorus loading through water quality monitoring efforts currently in place in the Maumee River Watershed or specifically Wood County,” she said.

Researchers continue to track and estimate the program’s impact on water quality in the Maumee River. 

Bowling Green water is drawn from the Maumee River and goes through multiple steps to ensure good water quality. 

“I look at the water report from the City every year, and the chemicals from agriculture aren’t detectable. Overall, the water quality is pretty good,” Bullerjahn said.

Bowling Green continues to try and improve water quality each year. Davis stressed that residents must look at how their actions impact the Maumee River. He said citizens must try to maintain the best practices to protect our environment and water. 

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