Watershed ‘action plan’ completed

Preserving and protecting area streams and rivers is the main focus of a watershed action plan recently completed through Friends of the Lower Muskingum River. But the plan also helps open the door to grant funding for projects within the local Muskingum River watershed.

The 300-plus-page Southern Muskingum Watershed Action Plan is the result of three years work collecting and compiling data on the streams and waterways that make up the local watershed.

That area encompasses the southernmost section of the Muskingum River from its confluence with the Ohio River to Big Run, which empties into the Muskingum north of Lowell, according to Jesse Daubert, watershed coordinator for Friends of the Lower Muskingum.

“It’s a water quality-based plan,” he said. “The overall goal was to identify potential sources of impairment or pollution in the local watershed.”

But he added that the plan also includes data on conditions for supporting aquatic life and recreation in four sub-watersheds that feed into Big Run, Rainbow Creek, Cat Creek, and Devol Run within the main Lower Muskingum watershed.

Daubert said stream studies done for the plan by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency indicated all four sub-watersheds were in pretty good shape for supporting aquatic life like fish and insects, but some elevated e-coli levels had been detected in the Devol Run sub-watershed from Goose Run in Marietta.

“Devol Run was in full attainment for aquatic life and recreation (wading, fishing), but the e-coli levels in Goose Run were way higher than allowed for the recreational use standard,” he said.

E-coli bacteria can come from a variety of sources, including animal waste, fertilizers and septic systems.

“The watershed plan is not a regulatory document, and we don’t point a finger at any one source of potential pollution,” Daubert said. “The plan simply identifies possible sources that may be considered.”

But he said addressing the elevated e-coli levels in Goose Run would likely be the main focus for initial implementation of the watershed action plan. That could include better development of “riparian buffer zones,” the planting of trees and other vegetation to help prevent erosion from stormwater runoff along the streambanks, as well as addressing sources of e-coli bacteria in the stream.

Daubert noted he has already been working with Marietta city officials who are also seeking to address that issue.

To develop the watershed action plan Daubert worked with state and local agencies like the Ohio EPA, Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, township trustees and county and city officials as well as landowners and other stakeholders within the watershed.

The plan has also been endorsed by the state.

“This plan gives us a good profile of the watershed. Before we can do anything to protect it, we have to identify where any problems exist,” said Marilyn Ortt, a longtime member of Friends of the Lower Muskingum River.

She noted the plan was developed through input from local landowners and stakeholders who live within the watershed district, not from a regulatory government agency in Washington, D.C.

“And it’s a living document that can be added to as we learn more from the watershed,” Ortt added. “The Muskingum River is a real asset to this community for recreation and aquatic life.”

She said the watershed plan helps preserve and protect that asset by addressing land use along area waterways.

The Southern Muskingum Watershed Action Plan can also provide an economic benefit for groups like Friends of the Lower Muskingum and others working on projects within the watershed.

“The action plan is an important component for us as it helps open avenues for our grant funding process,” said Marietta city engineer Joe Tucker.

He said having an endorsed watershed action plan gives the city and other organizations more credence with grant-funding agencies like Ohio EPA, Ohio DNR, and the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District.

“This should put us in a better position when applying for grants to do work anywhere in the Muskingum River watershed,” Tucker said, noting that grant money could include funding to help the city with projects like addressing drainage issues in the Rathbone area and support for the flood warning system project.

“There is the economic component, but for Friends of the Lower Muskingum our main mission is to do anything we can to improve water quality and the overall health of our local watershed,” Daubert said.