East Fork watershed conservation plan endorsed by state agencies

The East Fork Little Miami River is feeling a bit more protected lately after a conservation plan created by a local collaborative was endorsed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Jason Brown, coordinator for the watershed with the Clermont Soil and Water Conservation District, said that the plan is designed to cover the entire region surrounding the river and the tributaries that flow into it.

“A watershed is basically the drainage area of any river system,” said Brown. “For the East Fork, any drop of water that enters the East Fork comes from a certain area around it. That’s what we call the watershed. The headwaters of the East Fork begins in Highland County, and then goes through Brown, Clinton and Clermont counties.”

Encompassing about 320,000 acres, the watershed stretches through four counties. The plan created by the collaborative a few years ago is designed to figure out what is causing problems in the watershed and what needs to be done about it.

“There is a program started by the Ohio Division of Natural Resources,” said Brown. “An action plan is a management plan. You essentially identify what water resource impairments you have. You can involve the community in the planning process. You join together as stakeholders in the process to gather information and inventory all of the information, such as demographics and biology. You then identify impairments, such as sediment pollution or nutrient content or pathogens coming from failing septic systems. After you identify the impairments, you identify a plan of action to mitigate those impairments.”

Brown said that the idea is to plan out the process so that known problems are addressed, and future possibilities can be tackled quicker. In return, big funding sources that provide grants will be more willing to provide the cash when a problem is found.

“We basically say what the problems are, what the resources are to fix them, and then what we want to do about it,” said Brown. “When you figure out the timeline and the measures of success, if you have a state-endorsed plan, that automatically makes you eligible for watershed grant funding. There are numerous grants out there from government and non-profit organizations. They encourage this process, so a lot of them won’t even let you apply unless your plan is endorsed by the state.”

Brown said that making sure that local water sources are clean is important for many reasons, but the most pressing is simply our need for water to drink. The clean water act requires that water sources be kept available and unpolluted. This plan allows local agencies to get a start on that. Also, the importance of keeping a grand view of the issue is important, as pollution upstream will get here eventually.

“The main problem is we need fresh water,” said Brown. “You have to have a healthy supply of fresh water, and in the watershed, something that happens upstream effects us. In Clermont County, 30 percent of the people get their water from Harsha Lake. If some spill happens at the headwaters, eventually, it makes it to Harsha Lake. If we want healthy water to drink, then we have to make sure we protect the entire watershed and not just one particular area.”

For more information on the plan, go online to www.clermontswcd.org or www.oeq.net.