Newsroom Midwest Region

Reconnecting Lake Erie: Bringing back the ebb and flow of Ohio’s coastal wetlands

Crane Creek Estuary in Ohio
Crane Creek Estuary. Photo courtesy of Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

Water. It’s essential for all living things and connects us all. Having access to clean water is vital for both wildlife and people, and America’s wetlands help make that possible. We at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are pleased to see the waters of Lake Erie being reconnected with the protected wetlands of Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge. Learn more about how the H2Ohio Initiative is moving with speed and scale to reduce phosphorus and fight algal blooms in Ohio.

In partnership with the state of Ohio’s H2Ohio Initiative, the Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge team worked with Ohio Department of Natural Resources and Ottawa County Soil and Water Conservation District biologists and engineers to reconnect three wetland habitat units to Lake Erie through the Crane Creek Estuary. This 580-acre project will reduce nutrients flowing into the lake by diverting agricultural runoff from a lake level drainage ditch through an aluminum water control structure. This installation restores the natural hydrologic cycle of western Lake Erie and controls the volume and depth within the wetland, while also allowing native fish to enter the wetland for spawning and rearing.

“By reconnecting these habitats, Lake Erie will be allowed to breathe again, using these vital wetlands in a more natural ebb-and-flow way that will provide something both people and wildlife need – clean water,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Great Lakes Regional Director Charlie Wooley said. “H2Ohio projects like this help us get closer to meeting our collective goal of reducing phosphorus and improving water quality in the western basin.”

Regional Director Charlie Wooley was honored to join Director Mary Mertz and H2Ohio partners from the Ottawa Soil and Water District for the official ribbon cutting on October 28, 2021. A comprehensive, data-driven water quality plan, H2Ohio-funded projects work to reduce harmful algal blooms, improve wastewater infrastructure and prevent lead contamination. By working at a large scale, across Ohio, this initiative melds state and federal funding in a way that allows land managers to forge a quicker path to success for everyone in the Buckeye state.

“This project is a perfect example of how water quality and wildlife habitat can go hand in hand,” Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Mary Mertz said. “This wetland connection is ensuring clean water for future generations while continuing to provide space for wildlife to thrive.”

One of the benefits we’ll see through this passive management water control system is a return of submerged aquatic vegetation, which provides essential nursery habitat for northern pike and many smaller fish. Another important element of this project is that the team factored in flexibility in how we continue the battle against invasive carp in the Great Lakes. Carp exclusions, as part of this project, help to prevent carp from entering and spawning in coastal wetlands, which can degrade wetland quality.

Of course, there are so many services that wetlands provide fish and wildlife – but they’re also working hard for people too. With less than 10% of Ohio’s wetlands remaining, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge contains some of the most critical coastal wetland areas that can be reconnected to major bodies of water across the state, like Lake Erie. Lake Erie has been an important sustainer of Ohio’s economy for generations. From food production and transportation to recreation and scientific discovery, Lake Erie has given so much. Now, Ohioans can give back to this indispensable waterway by collectively improving water quality on a large scale.

Creative and quick partnerships like this bring expertise and dollars to real world problems. Together we’re finding real-world solutions.

Learn more about Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge.

Regional Director Charlie Wooley with Director Mary Mertz and Refuge Manager Jason Lewis
Regional Director Charlie Wooley with Director Mary Mertz and Refuge Manager Jason Lewis. Photo by USFWS.