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Published: Sunday, 11/13/2005

Wetlands may hold key to health of park's beach

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Health advisories posted on the Maumee Bay State Park beach have become a common sight in recent years. Biologists are seeking the source of bacteria that prompts the warnings. Health advisories posted on the Maumee Bay State Park beach have become a common sight in recent years. Biologists are seeking the source of bacteria that prompts the warnings.
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A three-year study into the causes of bacteria problems at Maumee Bay State Park beaches has identified an underrated villain - a creek that flows from Northwood to Lake Erie - as one potential source worthy of a lot more attention.

The next step: What to do about it?

Johan F. Gottgens, a University of Toledo wetlands expert, said much of the bacteria from Wolf Creek and its associated stream, Berger Ditch, could be captured with the construction of some wetlands.

They would have to be designed with the proper mix of plants and gravel.

Equally important, they would have to be built in the right place.

Wetlands work best at destroying bacteria when they are shallow and slow-moving.

That allows the sun's ultraviolet light to penetrate the water and kill off the type of E. coli bacteria that makes people sick, he said.

"The removal efficiency depends greatly upon how it is built," said Mr. Gottgens, who has been brought in for his wetlands expertise by the multiagency task force addressing the park's bacteria problem.

The cost of such work won't be known until the scope is defined, he said.

The basic concept of attacking the bacteria problem with man-made wetlands is expected to highlight a public meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at UT's Lake Erie Center, 6200 Bay Shore Rd., Oregon.

The study, funded by the Ohio Water Quality Development Authority, the city of Oregon, the city of Toledo, and a variety of other agencies, was conducted by the Lake Erie Center, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council on Governments.

According to some of the council of governments' advance literature, Wolf Creek "appears to be a principal source of bacteria impacting the Lake Erie beaches at Maumee Bay State Park."

But Wolf Creek is in no way seen as the only culprit.

The park's bacteria problem is so complex that the bacteria in the creek and the ditch likely will only be seen as one of several smoking guns - yet one of the larger ones left.

Berger Ditch is a northern offshoot of Wolf Creek, which cuts through the center of the park and empties into the lake at the park's marina.

The preliminary overview from the council of governments echoes Mr. Gottgens by saying that the "next project to reduce bacteria levels at the Lake Erie beaches should be construction of wetland(s) along Wolf/Berger."

"Such a system will settle and filter out sediment and bacteria. The wetland ecosystem will capture bacteria before they can get to the bay," the flyer said.

Kurt Erichsen, the council of governments' vice president of environmental planning and a spokesman for the bacteria task force, was not available for comment.

Oregon Mayor Marge Brown, who is expected to be at Wednesday night's meeting, said the study results will be an important tool for learning where the bacteria is coming from and how it can be addressed.

In addition to the wetland potential for Wolf Creek and Berger Ditch, officials are expected to received an update on efforts to fix septic tanks, plus strides that Oregon has made in extending its sewage network so that fewer eastern Lucas County residents have to rely on septic systems.

They'll hear the familiar refrain of how water turbidity, rainfall, wind direction, and wave height affect bacteria levels at the park's beach.

But they'll also hear a few surprises, such as how water temperature, birds, and bathers may not be triggers to the degree that they previously were thought.

Information is to be presented suggesting that the heated discharge from FirstEnergy Corp.'s coal-fired Bay Shore power plant is having minimal, if any, effect on bacteria counts.

The 648-megawatt power plant, capable of producing enough electricity for 300,000 homes, has been online since 1955.

It draws in up to 756 million gallons of water from the Maumee River each day for cooling, then discharges the heated water into a portion of the Maumee Bay that's just three miles west of the park.

A few puzzling pieces of data also are to be divulged.

Some of the region's highest bateria counts were found near the Maumee River's mouth and two sampling locations along shoreline just to the east.

Bacteria levels also were high in sediment in the western end of the lake - in the Maumee River shipping channel. But not in the upper 10 feet of water.

"Bacteria appear to settle in the sediment of the channel," the advance flyer said.

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com or 419-724-6079.



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