August 20, 2008

Projects Show Hope for Grand Lake St. Marys


There is some good news about Grand Lake St. Marys. No, the water has not cleared up. It's still green with the consistency, in spots, of weak pea soup.

While that's not good news, there's hope on the horizon.

"This lake has been let go for so long, it's going to take a lot to get it back to where it needs to be, but now everyone has been brought together through the watershed project and that is going to help us accomplish many things," said Brian Miller, assistant manager at Grand Lake St. Marys State Park.

At least four projects are in the works that might not turn the lake around, but will at least be a step in the right direction.

1. The state has allocated $695,000 for rip-rap in several places in the lake suffering from severe bank erosion. Erosion is one of the problems contributing to the murky water. That won't eliminate bank erosion, but it will shore up some of the banks.

If you want to know how long it takes the wheels of government to work, consider this: Some $445,000 of this money was approved by the legislature six years ago. Miller said he hopes to see barges hauling rocks by November.

2. While the state park has had ongoing dredging programs for years, three areas are being targeted for use of dredged material. The parks, in conjunction with Mercer County Soil and Water, are planning to use that dredged material to fill geotextile tubes.

These tubes allow water to seep back out, but keep the sediment (including oil) in. The bags can then be used like rip-rap to protect the banks. This will cover 800 feet of shoreline just west of Windy Point. About $100,000 of state and federal money will be used.

3. An in-lake site for dredged material will be used to construct a wetland on the north side of the lake, near the county line. Park officials have been asking contractors to donate clean, broken concrete.

A dike will be built out of the concrete pieces to contain the dredged material. It will only be filled high enough to create the wetland, which is one of the devices to help filter water running into the lake. Work has already begun.

4. Mercer County and the city of Celina are planning a project that would be the most ambitious, costing $6 million. The county has donated 60 acres of land a couple miles west of the lake. The sediment will be pumped out of the lake and sent through a pipe to the donated land. There it will be dried out and eventually reused.

While the dredged material appears to be not much more than muck, it is high in nutrients. It's the overloading of nutrients from farm fields, mostly, that brings out the algae that has stained the lake and deteriorated the water.

Miller said he is looking forward to a time when the water quality will be vastly improved, when, like the "old days," Grand Lake St. Marys is the crappie fishing capital of Ohio.

"The problems we are having with this lake didn't just happen overnight," he said. "So it will take a lot of time and money to make things better. If you let your house go without maintenance for years, it's going to cost money and a lot of work to fix it up again. The same thing is true with this lake."

While these projects are a great start, there is so much more that has to be done. The main thing will be to greatly improve the quality of the water running into the lake. Considering the number of landowners involved, it will likely be the most difficult to accomplish.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2409 or [email protected]

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