No bloom zone

At Indian Lake, decades of partnerships have pre-empted algae problem

IL algae harvester

This weed harvester, made possible by $127,000 in donations through the Indian Lake Watershed Project, is one of the many tools used at Indian Lake to maintain the health of the lake. (PHOTO | INDINA LAKE WATERSHED PROJECT)

While northwest Ohio and much of the nation are pumping billions of dollars into efforts to fight toxic algae, decades of partnerships and good practices have prevented algae from becoming an issue at Logan County’s landmark body of water.

Indian Lake is an example of good local stewardship, according to State Park Manager George Sholtis, who took over at Indian Lake about five years ago after working at Lake Loramie.

“The lake itself compared to others has been successful because the watershed group has been so active in promoting clean water and good land management practices,” he said.

The Indian Lake Watershed Project began in 1990 as a way to help farmers begin thinking about ways to keep Indian Lake healthy. It is also born of the Logan County Soil and Water Conservation District formed in 1943 as a part of a federal response to the Dust Bowl that ravaged the southern Great Plains in the 1930s.

Indian Lake area farmer Frank Phelps, who is president of the Indian Lake Watershed’s joint board and a longtime member of the SWCD, has been involved since the non-profit entity’s formation and has been instrumental in making sure farmers were involved with the conversation from its outset.

“I farm very close to the lake, so when they started talking about this, I wanted to get involved so they didn’t make rules we couldn’t live with,” Phelps said. “Now we have something nice here and something we can be very proud of.”

While many watersheds across the nation expect farmers to find their way through federal regulations with little assistance, Logan County has a strong network in place and has come up with other incentives that make conservation farming practices less of a sacrifice for farmers.

“We’ve got grants over the years that have helped farmers convert to no-till, which keeps soil on the ground,” Phelps said. “We’ve put money into wetlands and filter strips. We have an interest buy-down program to help farmers buy new equipment to switch to no-till.”

Over the years, the Watershed Project has continued to offer educational courses and programs that reinforce the value of conservation practices.

In more recent years, the Watershed Project was instrumental in raising funds for a dredge, “Chief,” that began operating on Indian Lake in 2014. It will be joined next year by a second dredge, “Scout,” funded by the Ohio Legislature.

The Watershed also purchased a $127,000 weed harvester in 2011, which has helped make the lake more navigable and improve water quality.

They have also installed silt traps at the mouth of the North Fork and South Fork — the two main tributaries that form Indian Lake and the Great Miami River that begins at its spillway. The sediment that falls out at those locations is pumped out of the water before reaching the lake and can be disposed of at a collection point, Phelps said.

A sanitary sewer collection system has been installed that serves all the communities and major areas of unincorporated development surrounding Indian Lake.

Deb Roberts, administrator at Logan SWCD, said good land management practices are encouraged throughout Logan County to help prevent fertilizer and other runoff from reaching the watersheds that feed not only Indian Lake but the Mad River and other streams and rivers as well.

“At the soil and water office, we work with landowners to apply for programs through the federal government to address those types of efforts — installing filter strips and cover crops that help with erosion.

“We also assist with the technical planning,” she said, noting that their technician surveyed and designed 12 miles of waterway drainage for Logan County farmers in the past year.

“Since 1943, conservation has been a big deal in Logan County,” Roberts said. “But we all work together and are partners in this.”

While there have been no confirmed instances of toxic algae in any local water, all reports are investigated and taken seriously.

“If we hear of an issue or see a problem we will come out and look, but so far we haven’t had anything,” Roberts said.

Check out a related story by the Associate Press: