Water... water everywhere.
Fresh water is one of our greatest natural resources. Lately, Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge has a bunch of it with Lake Erie is at record high lake levels. Read on to understand the challenges of high water and aging infrastructure on the refuge complex.
As you may know, water in the refuge marshes is managed through a series of dikes, culverts, and pumps with the ultimate goal of being able to manage water to provide habitat for Ottawa’s flora and fauna. This water management was extremely challenging in 2019. Lake Erie continued the trend of an increasing lake level, and set new record highs for the five- month period from May through August. A new all-time record high for Lake Erie of 574.62’ was set in June, 2.6’ above the long-term average lake level for the month of June. Biology and maintenance staff spent considerable time pumping water for flood mitigation in an effort to protect critical infrastructure. In addition, we managed water levels on 3,555 acres of wetlands to provide essential habitat for migratory birds and other wildlife.
Failing water control structures and pumps have greatly impacted wetland management on the Ottawa NWR complex. Many of the original water control structures were installed in a short period of time in the 1970s and ‘80s, and are reaching the end of their serviceable life. Currently, five pumping stations are in critical condition and will be prioritized within our limited refuge maintenance budget for repairs over the next few years.
Normally these projects would be funded out of FWS deferred maintenance dollars, but with a national FWS backlog of $1.4 billion dollars and limited budget appropriations, Ottawa NWR Complex has not received any funding for deferred maintenance projects since 2011.
Habitat Management and Restoration
The Ottawa Refuge Complex received special funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) to connect wetland habitats to lake hydrology. The wet spring led to challenges, adjustments, and delays to GLRI restoration projects.
In 2018, the refuge received a Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grant to treat invasive plant species on federal, state, and private lands and hire an invasive species position. In 2019, a three person invasive species strike team was hired consisting of Holly Walp, Owen Segaard, and Morgan Donaldson. This incredible team far exceeded the grant target of 850 acres treated. They addressed a number of species and locations that the refuge normally does not have the capacity to treat. In addition, remaining grant money will fund a position for follow up treatments in 2021.