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Quantifying Nutrient Retention by Lake Erie Coastal Wetlands

Project Photo

Excessive amounts of phosphorus entering Lake Erie has been leading to harmful algal blooms in the lake and low oxygen conditions in lake bottom waters. Coastal managers identified wetland restoration as a critical management tool to reduce nutrient loading to Lake Erie and Sandusky Bay, Ohio. However, the capacity of different coastal wetlands to retain nutrients and improve water quality is not well understood.

This project addressed key information gaps identified by land managers, regulators, and conservation groups involved in coastal wetland restoration and management efforts around Lake Erie. The project developed a unique analytical approach - a Bayesian hierarchical model - to quantify the long-term capacity for riverine Lake Erie coastal wetlands to retain phosphorus. The team developed a series of technical tools, including a monitoring protocol and freely available statistical code, to enable others to repeat their analysis and calculate the retention capacity of their own wetlands.

An infographic and story map were developed to explain the services wetlands provide for humans, how wetlands can be managed for different services, and the ability for wetlands to intercept nutrients before they reach Lake Erie. A core group of project end users met regularly throughout this project to provide guidance and feedback, and this group is helping ensure that project findings are incorporated into a new water quality initiative, H2Ohio, which is funding the restoration and enhancement of over 35 wetlands across Ohio.