Thursday, December 12, 2019

West Marsh Structure 2: Update #6 -- On-line and Flowing Clear

Check out a new video just posted to our YouTube channel -- Roy narrates as water is finally free to move through our newly constructed Structure 2

Another milestone was reached in the last week when Standing Rush's "Structure 2" was officially brought online. A functional second major water conveyance structure on the West Marsh means surface and subsurface water run-off (largely from agricultural land uses upstream) can now be directed into nearly 200-acres of coastal wetland (our West Marsh) rather than all being discharged directly into Sandusky Bay -- and ultimately into Lake Erie.

This functionality culminates four years of planning and active restoration on the site; it provides a mechanism for tremendous improvement in water quality on a landscape scale and also serves as a blueprint for future restoration activities, ideally both on Standing Rush's East Marsh and beyond.

The dark blue arrow in the schematic above represents water conveyance
from Structure 1; the light blue arrow represents the newly established
water conveyance through Structure 2
Some version of the visual depiction to the left has been floating in my mind for days . . . or if I'm honest, for weeks, months, or even years. The green shaded area to the left of SR 269 is our West Marsh. The green to the right of the north/south highway is our East Marsh. The yellow shading depicts wetland areas owned by four neighbors.

The green arrows represent the "surface and sub-surface run-off" water alluded to above. The small green arrows are new (very intentional) inputs into the marsh; large green arrows depict run-off from surrounding lands. Water generally runs south to north generally in our area. Much of the surrounding landscape is farmed, either for row crops or animals/ livestock. Most of the ground is tiled and ditched.

Understandably, a farmer's goal is typically to remove surface water from a field as quickly and efficiently and possible. This means water is engineered to follow straight lines wherever possible until it terminates at the lowest elevation -- in this case, the bay (or lake).

Prior to Standing Rush's restoration activities, much of the run-off water west of SR 269 and south of the West Marsh ended up in a terminal ditch that flows directly into Sandusky Bay -- depicted by the black, dashed arrow above. This is great for efficiency of water transport, but it is not very good for water quality. [To build on the "wetlands as kidneys" analogy, this is analogous to letting harmful byproducts bypass the kidneys without enabling the crucial organs do what they are designed to do. When they are located in the right place and have the capacity to function as designed, such a bypass just doesn't make much sense.]

Stone placement and rough grading took place
just yesterday to wrap up our 2019 construction
year; finish grading and final touch-up at the
structure will wait till spring/early summer
Keep in mind, we're not just talking about Standing Rush's ~550 acres either. The total area shaded (green and yellow) represents 1,200-1,300 acres or ~5% of all the coastal wetland remaining on all of the Western Basin of Lake Erie.

So with the holidays coming, maybe it's time to lift a glass . . . but we have a lot more work to do. Our efforts on the West Marsh can be replicated -- in many ways, almost identically -- on our East Marsh. And we have opportunity to continue to collaborate with our neighbors to further magnify not just meaningful water quality improvements, but also other shared priorities like long-term conservation, enriched wildlife diversity and usage, increased recreational opportunities, and educational outreach.

Wrap all this up together and bear in mind that there finally seems to be political support -- both federally and at the state level -- to make these types of crucial projects happen and we feel that we have the recipe for meaningful progress. Bottom line: we have a working model to meaningfully help address a very timely issue -- namely, how nutrients can be utilized within a coastal wetland setting before they are liberated into the open lake where they are demonstrated to wreak havoc in the form of harmful algal blooms.

Structure 2 (facing north) as of this morning; Roy had to push himself out in a punt boat over an inch of ice to capture
this shot -- easy for me to say, but worth it considering all the work we went through to get to this point