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March 30, 2021

By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman

COLUMBUS, Ohio — In less than two years, H2Ohio has spurred dozens of water-quality improvement projects from Lake Erie to the Ohio River, and supporters say the program is just getting started.

Gov. Mike DeWine’s biennial budget plan includes continued funding for the H2Ohio Initiative, which was launched in late 2019 to reduce harmful algal blooms, improve wastewater infrastructure and address lead contamination.

Cody Weisbrodt, government relations policy associate for The Nature Conservancy in Ohio, said the H2Ohio program has enjoyed robust support from a unique combination of stakeholders.

“Some of the most vocal supporters have really been both the farm bureau and the agricultural community and then the conservation and environmental community,” Weisbrodt pointed out. “And then there are also business and community organizations. I think we all recognize that this is really a once-in-a-generation opportunity.”

H2Ohio’s budget request for Fiscal Years 2022 through 2023 is about $240 million, which would be distributed between the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio Department of Agriculture, the Ohio EPA and the Ohio Lake Erie Commission.

Weisbrodt contended losing the funding would derail the progress H2Ohio stands to make, and put irreplaceable waters at risk.

The Ohio Department of Agriculture is leading the program’s efforts to reduce phosphorus runoff that contributes to algal blooms.

Kris Swartz, chairman of the Ohio Agricultural Conservation Initiative and a farmer in Wood County, is among the more than 1,800 farmers and producers receiving funding for cover crops, crop rotation, soil testing and other best practices.

He explained the program is currently focused on the Maumee River Watershed, but is expected to extend to other parts of the state in the future.

“A lot of producers have done some of these practices before, but we’re kind of raising the bar on them and making them just a little harder to do but more beneficial for water quality,” Swartz remarked. “Once they get going, producers are going to see that these practices can blend into their normal operations pretty well.”

More than one million acres of farmland use best-management practices.

H2Ohio has also spurred wetland projects to filter more than 80,000 acres of wetlands, repaired or replaced 180 home sewage treatment systems, and served 4,000 people with new drinking water projects.