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CELINA — The public and private partnership to help heal Grand Lake St. Marys was highlighted Tuesday morning as one of the tools in the lake’s tool box was on display.
State and local officials held a dedication ceremony for the treatment train at Prairie Creek, which is a pilot project aimed at regenerating and simulating wetlands along Ohio 219 near the south side of Grand Lake St. Marys. Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission Manager Milt Miller said the project, which involved a partnership between state and local officials, shows the importance of wetlands around the lake.
“Today is truly a celebration,” Miller said. “Today is a recognition of partnerships — each of you today have been and hopefully will be partners with us in restoring the lake. There is no better example, in my opinion, of the public/private partnership of this treatment train.”
The treatment train is a multi-phased system that removes excess nutrients from Prairie Creek before it enters the lake. Water is treated with alum and chitosan then released into former farmland that has been retooled into wetlands. The treated water then passes through natural filtration methods before entering Grand Lake St. Marys as a “healthy, brown color,” Miller said.
“It has performed so beautifully that we haven’t injected any alum,” Miller said, noting the first alum injection took place last week. “There are six deep water pools and there also are two rock barriers. Then it goes out our two outlets west and north.”
The treatment train handles 30 million gallons a month. Miller said the pumping system helps bring water into the treatment train during the dry summer months — typically a time period when the creek does not flow because of low levels.
Results from the treatment train have shown significant decreases in the levels of nutrients hitting the lake from the tributary. Miller said phosphorus levels have decreased 74 to 75 percent, nitrogen levels have dropped by more than 40 percent and microcystin levels have been zero.
“This was truly a pilot project,” Miller said. “We had to prove it worked significantly for the money that was spent.”
The treatment train cost $1.9 million to build. Miller said a grant will help expand the facility to a neighboring cornfield that will double the treatment train’s capacity.
“The beauty of these wetlands is that they are long-term strategies,” Miller said.
The long-term plan is to establish treatment trains along each of the tributaries that pour into Grand Lake St. Marys. Another treatment train is being planned for Coldwater Creek and is expected to be built in the near future.
Ohio EPA Director Scott Nally praised the efforts of local lake officials for being proactive in helping to heal the lake. Nally’s department was instrumental in issuing permits, securing funding as well as helping to develop plans for the wetlands, which involved the Army Corps of Engineers.
“This was part of the strategic plan placed in front of us when we first came on board,” Nally said. “This was a huge team event and what you are seeing is another step in that process ... We are going to continue as we work through this. We have multiple other areas that feed into the lake that we have to tackle.”
Ohio Department of Agriculture Director David Daniels touted the work going on within the watershed for helping to heal the lake. Farmers, Daniels said, are stepping up and adhering to new nutrient management requirements.
“I know a lot of people out there have looked at agriculture as kind of the root cause of this,” Daniels said. “I want to tell you what a wonderful job the producers in the area have done at stepping forward and working on their operations to reduce the phosphorus that is running off their fields and into the lake. We have 99 percent of producers in this area who now have nutrient management plans.”
Ohio Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer tabbed the treatment train a success in the battle to help the lake.
“This is a multifaceted approach,” Zehringer said, noting dredging and rough fish removal also are critical in helping the lake. “The ag community is stepping up, the local community is stepping up. We aren’t pointing fingers, we aren’t saying who’s to blame, we are just getting the job done.”
The public will get the chance to tour the facility during open houses scheduled to be held from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Literature on the treatment train will be available at the location.