Wetlands plan boosts hopes for troubled Ohio lake

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ST. MARYS, Ohio (AP) -- Manmade wetlands could help ease manmade problems in what was once the world's largest manmade lake.

The sprawling Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio was hit by a toxic algae bloom two years ago that damaged the region's tourism business while highlighting problems caused by phosphorous runoff from farms. Those involved in lake-restoration efforts say there are improvements under way that give them long-term hope.

"We've got a lot of strong-willed people," said Milt Miller, a banker who helped form the Grand Lake St. Marys Restoration Commission.

A planned system of wetlands around the lake should help soak up phosphorous. The first in place is a nine-acre complex that pumps water through two treatment ponds to filter it before it feeds the lake.

Ohio officials have provided more than $8.5 million for chemical treatments and dredging. Meanwhile, more than 150 farmers will follow new manure-management plans to reduce runoff. They also will stop spreading manure on their fields during winter months.

Miller said the first wetlands complex, built on donated land, should be followed by similar filtering systems for six other feeder streams into the lake. The Columbus Dispatch reports (http://bit.ly/V5DUMr) that aerial photos of the lake taken in the 1930s show some 3,000 acres of wetlands along the lake's southern edge. They have been since filled in by development.

"You can see Mother Nature wanted this beautiful network of wetlands here," Miller said.

The lake was originally dug to supply water to the Miami-Erie Canal and once was largest manmade lake in the world.

Farmers have added manure storage buildings and are taking other measures to cut phosphorous runoff. Livestock farmer Jerry Will is working with a machine that draws phosphorous out of pig manure, changing it into crystals.

"This is the future right here," Will said.

Patience will be needed. High winds this year stirred up phosphorous sediment, and a treatment had little effect. Dredging of key phosphorous areas will take years.

"It took years for the lake to get into this situation," Miller said. "It's going to take years to get out of it."

Manmade wetlands could help ease manmade problems in an important western Ohio lake.

The sprawling Grand Lake St. Marys was hit by a toxic algae bloom two years ago that damaged tourism while highlighting problems caused by phosphorous runoff from farms.

The Columbus Dispatch reports (http://bit.ly/V5DUMr ) that lake-restoration supporters say they are dedicated to improvements that give them long-term hope.

A planned system of wetlands around the lake should help soak up phosphorous. The first in place is a nine-acre complex that pumps water through two treatment ponds to filter it before it feeds the lake.

Milt Miller is a restoration leader who says building wetlands will help make up for the natural system that was covered over by development.

Farmers also will follow new manure-management plans to reduce runoff.

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com

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