The Cooper Creek Collaborative (CCC) is a partnership of multiple organizations and community members who have come together to restore the Cooper Creek watershed. We are working to rebuild a healthy natural stream system to be enjoyed by the community and local wildlife. Under the leadership of the District, CCC is focusing its efforts on mitigating the impacts of “urban hydrologic alteration” (UHA) on the creek within a 1-mile2 Demonstration Watershed. UHA is the most wide-spread and foundational cause of biological degradation in creeks in Hamilton County and in urban/sub-urban areas throughout the region (and many regions globally). There are two primary in-stream symptoms of UHA: 1) reduced baseflow between rain events (our creeks are drying-out!), and 2) increased frequency of erosive flash flows in response to rain events.
Mitigating the impacts of UHA is no small task! In fact, it is not entirely clear that doing so, to a biologically relevant extent, is feasible in densely urbanized areas. For this reason, our work has attracted the attention and participation of several research groups from EPA, the University of Cincinnati, and the Ohio State University. The ultimate goal of the CCC’s Demonstration Watershed program is to restore a more natural hydrology, and more diverse biological community, to Cooper Creek. We pursue this goal in a methodical and data-driven manner that will facilitate answering key research questions associated with the feasibility and best practices for restoring urban streams.
CCC was founded in early 2019 and after two-years of planning, funding acquisition, and base-line monitoring, the fruits of our labor are beginning to emerge. In 2020, our first two projects were installed and funding was secured in support of additional projects to be implemented in 2021. CCC’s first wave of mitigation efforts is focused on three project types: urban reforestation, detention basin retrofitting, and installation of natural wood structures into the creek to create pool habitat and slow down erosive flows. In 2021, projects of each of these three types will be installed.
Research efforts have steadily ramped-up in the Demonstration Watershed over the last two-years and momentum continues to build. Our research partners are working to answer questions with importance to urban stream restoration: How effective are each of our mitigation strategies at naturalizing in-stream hydrology? How do urban fish populations move in response to unnaturally high frequencies of erosive flash flows (and through “perched” culvert)? How do aging sanitary sewers laid along\-side the creek (a very common occurrence) influence instream hydrology? Can we develop low-cost methods for improving the capacity of our soil to soak-up rainwater?
In addition to answering these important questions, much of this work is creating valuable research experience for local university students and helping to build the next generation of problem-solvers to address these problems.
There is simply too much going on in the Cooper Creek Demonstration Watershed to discuss in detail in a single article. We are working to document and provided updates on each of our on-going mitigation and research efforts at CooperCreek.org. We have also just launched a Cooper Creek Collaborative Facebook page to share updates on projects, new initiatives, and opportunities for the public to get involved and to enjoy the Creek. Keep an eye out for information on “Cooper Creek Adventure” opportunities coming soon!
By: Aaron Habig
It is spring again and thoughts move to working in the yard. It is time to get out and start to plant the vegetable garden, tend to the flower beds, and work on the lawn. So how do you know what these areas need? If you have not had a soil fertility test, you may not know what the soil conditions are, and you could be spending money on things you may or may not need.
Most people listen to the ads put out by the fertilizer companies telling them what they need to use. These ads are designed to sell you products, not to do what is best for your yard and the environment. Excess nutrients are one of the major contributors to water quality in our streams, lakes, and rivers. These nutrients do not just come off farm fields, they can be washing off your yard.
By having your soil tested, you can get a precise recommendation on the nutrients you need to apply for the crop you are trying to grow. This will reduce the amount of excess nutrients available to wash into the environment and save you money on purchasing fertilizer. You can also find out if the pH of your soil is in a range that is best for the plants you are trying to grow.
If your pH is not in the correct range, you may have all the nutrients a plant needs, but they may not be available for the plant to use.
Hamilton County Soil & Water Conservation District can provide a kit to have your soils tested and provide results tailored to the type of plants you are trying to grow. We use Penn State University to provide this service. The cost of a soil test through Penn State is $9.00 for the basic test. This test will tell you the amount of Phosphorus, Potassium, Magnesium, and Calcium, as well as your pH. Penn State will also give recommendation for the appropriate amount of nitrogen as well as the above listed nutrients. If your pH is not within the recommended range, guidance is provided on how to lower or raise the pH to an optimal level.
A copy of the test results is also sent back to the District, so that we can have the results on hand to go over with you should you have any questions about the results, or fertilizer recommendations.
To request a soil test kit visit our website. You can also pick them up at our office during normal business hours.
Feel free to contact Aaron Habig with any soil fertility or soil health questions.
By: Gwen Roth
2021 has certainly had it's challenges and depending on your perspective, this may or may not add to those challenges, because… the cicadas are coming! The Brood X cicadas are a once every 17-year event that some people look forward to and others dread. Those that dread it, there’s good news. The cicadas are very short lived and will only be around for about 6-8 weeks.
The cicadas we will meet this spring (late April/early May) are the offspring from the last round of cicadas in 2004. While there are many species of cicadas, found on all continents, except Antarctica, the periodical cicadas are some of the most interesting. They live most of their lives as nymphs in the top 2’ of soil eating juices from plant roots and only emerge above ground after 17 years!! Once the soil has reached 64 degrees, it’s time to emerge. The cicadas will crawl up a tree and molt for the final time, leaving their nymph exoskeleton behind. When they first molt, their skin and wings are a whitish color and it takes a few days for their exoskeleton to harden and to develop the darker colors.
Once their exoskeleton has hardened, it’s time to find a mate. The males use a body part called a tymbal to make a buzzing, clicking noise to attract females. The females have no tymbal but click their wings to signify to a male she is ready to mate. After mating, the female will use a special body part called an ovipositor to make a small slit in a tree branch (she prefers branches about 1/4”-3/8” in diameter) and lays a cluster of eggs, usually about 20-25 per slit. She will continue up the branch or to another tree, make another slit and deposit more eggs, continuing this process, she can lay up to 600 eggs before dying. The eggs will hatch inside the tree branch in about 6-10 weeks and the tiny nymphs will fall to the ground. The nymphs will use their legs to dig into the ground and feast on plant roots for the next 17 years until it is their time to emerge. The adult cicadas only live for about 4 weeks. Imagine spending 17 years underground and only 4 weeks above.
While many people in the tri-state may be dreading the cicada emergence, its good to know they are harmless to humans. Other than being loud and maybe annoying, they can’t sting or bite us and really just want to reproduce. They become a meal for many animals, including birds, frogs, fish, squirrels, reptiles, spiders and even people (if you’re in to that). If you have young trees or fruit trees, it is a good idea to cover them with a netting to help protect them. Older, more established trees are not as affected by cicadas and should survive just fine. Please do not use pesticides to try to kill them. Remember, they are here for a very short period of time and pesticides can kill many of our beneficial pollinators as well.
You can become a citizen scientist this spring and help track the emergence of the Brood X cicadas. Check out http://cicadasafari.org/ and download the Safari Cicada app. You can also use the hashtags #BroodX or #BroodXCicadas in social media.
Just remember, we have such a short time together with these cicadas and we won’t see them again for 17 years, let’s make the most of it.
By: Lori Lenhart
Urban agriculture is taking root in cities across the country, providing access to healthy produce, creating local jobs and strengthening communities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has worked to increase urban agriculture opportunities through the High Tunnel System Initiative, a program that provides financial and technical assistance to urban producers to grow food year-round. In Cincinnati, the agency partnered with local organizations including the city’s Office of Environment and Sustainability, the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District, and others to create the Cincinnati Seasonal High Tunnel Initiative.
Through their efforts, the first high tunnel in Cincinnati was installed in Avondale on December 16, 2020. Members of the community joined together to erect the structure and finished the project in a single day. Small business owner April Pandora, who is managing the high tunnel, is excited for the new capabilities that the structure will bring to her business, Eden Urban Gardens, LLC. Through her business, Pandora delivers food directly to customers in surrounding neighborhoods through CSA food shares and farmers’ markets.
"The Cincinnati High Tunnel Initiative has helped us expand our urban farm production,” she said, “With the high tunnel, we will not only be able to increase the availability of fresh food in the winter, but also provide a more diverse selection of higher quality vegetables to nearby communities.”
In recent years, the city has revised regulations to allow for more urban agriculture opportunities. Former Ohio Statehouse representatives Dale Mallory and Jim Buchy spearheaded efforts to establish the Cincinnati High Tunnel Initiative to address fresh food shortages and alleviate food access challenges like transportation and grocery store proximity.
The initiative is now in its second year of providing funding and is gaining momentum. In 2020, the CHTI funded four high tunnels in the city. In 2021, NRCS received eight applications for high tunnels from a variety of candidates including a farming cooperative, nonprofits, female- and minority-owned small businesses and others.
“It is refreshing to learn about the existing farming operations in the city that have diverse missions,” NRCS Urban Conservationist Lori Lenhart said. “Urban agriculture provides countless benefits, from a health, educational and economic standpoint. We’re looking forward to working with these organizations to strengthen food security within the city.”
Contact Lori Lenhart at 614-653-3460, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on Cincinnati’s high tunnel program, including eligibility and funding opportunities. Though the funding deadline has passed for 2021 applications, NRCS accepts applications year-round for the next funding cycle.
By: Sarah Meadows
Believe it or not, the top pollutant in Hamilton County streams is sediment. One way to reduce the sediment load in our streams is to prevent erosion, which can sometimes be easier said than done. So why not take a lesson from nature? Roots from vegetation naturally hold soil in place, but digging into an eroding streambank to plant trees could cause more problems. Enter the ‘live stake’!
Live stakes are cut branches of dormant, living riparian trees. Water loving species such as willow are the best candidates, and naturally have the best root structure for hanging on to streambanks. Start by clipping a dormant branch about as long as your arm and a big as your finger. Then, simply shove your stake most of the way into the eroded bank. The buds underground will grow into roots, the buds above ground will grow into shoots, and you’ve planted a brand new tree that will naturally stabilize that eroding streambank!
This year, we collected and installed more than 2,000 live stakes into streambanks around Hamilton County. Special thanks to our partners and the many volunteers who made it happen – Mill Creek Alliance, Mill Creek Yacht Club, Rivers Unlimited, Ohio Valley Forestry Fellowship, GE Young Professionals, Isaac M. Wise Temple, Rhinegeist Brewery, and Paul Brown Stadium. We hope to continue forging new partnerships and getting more trees (live stakes) installed next year. For more information about live staking and how to get involved, visit our website or contact Public Involvement Coordinator Sarah Meadows at 513-772-7645, email@example.com.
By: Gwen Roth
Is that really the question? Around this time of year many questions come up about using salt to melt the ice on our roads and bridges. Road salt (sometimes called rock salt) is mostly sodium chloride, the same as our table salt, but in a much coarser form. Sodium chloride, in small amounts is actually important for people to consume, but in larger amounts can be harmful to people, wildlife and aquatic ecosystems.
So where does rock salt come from and why do we use it? Interestingly, according to the American Geosciences Institute, Ohio is the 3rd largest producer of rock salt (5.4 million metric tons), behind Louisiana and New York and 2nd highest consumer of rock salt (3.5 million metric tons), behind only New York. Rock salt is used by many communities to make travel safer. It is spread on roads to help lower the freezing temperature of water, thereby not allowing ice to form. Over the years, the use of road salt has increased dramatically in the US.
Image: American Geosciences Institute
With this increased use of rock salt, comes increased environmental issues as well. While the rock salt is designed to keep roads from becoming slippery, as the snow and ice melts it mixes with the salt and runs off. This stormwater runoff often goes directly to creeks and streams where it can wreak havoc on local aquatic ecosystems. A 2017, study of 371 lakes in North America (mostly in Northern US and Southern Canada) showed chloride levels rose in over 30% of the lakes and more than two dozen were approaching chloride levels harmful to aquatic wildlife. When salt gets into our local waterbodies, it can alter the water’s temperature, dissolved oxygen levels and cause stratification - the inability to mix water vertically in the water column. This can lead to fish kills, algal blooms and an increase in non-native species, who are traditionally more able to adapt to changing environments.
Our local governments are doing many things to decrease salt runoff, including pre-treating roadways with a mixture of salt and water (called brine which uses significantly less salt than traditional treatments), using alternative solutions (like beet juice mixtures) and making sure salt is stored in a covered area to prevent runoff.
So, what can you do to help out? When it snows, first shovel your driveway or sidewalk before adding salt and make sure to use the minimum amount to do the job. You can always add more later if needed. If you just want to get traction and not to melt the ice, you can always add sand, but try to sweep up later to avoid clogging storm drains. Research alternatives to rock salt. Many ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘green’ products that people use to replace salt might not be that green at all, so do your homework. In 2019, Olivia and Sophia Dick from Wyoming High School won the Caring For Our Watersheds competition because they had researched an alternative to rock salt, made up samples and distributed them to their local community members. What was their alternative? Used coffee grounds and alfalfa meal and it really works!
Bottom line, we live in a climate where we have to deal with snow in the winter (at least some of the time) and while there is no perfect answer to get rid of the snow, we can all do a little to help protect our local ecosystem by not over using salt.
Dugan, Hillary A., et al. “Salting our Freshwater Lakes.” PNAS vol. 114, no.17, 2017, 4453-4458. https://www.pnas.org/content/114/17/4453.full
Lilek, Joseph, “Roadway Deicing in the United States.” American Geosciences Institute. 2017. https://www.americangeosciences.org/sites/default/files/CI_Factsheet_2017_3_Deicing_170712.pdf