COLUMBUS, Ohio – While some would say people are the problem behind Lake Erie’s harmful algal blooms, Jay Martin will tell you they’re the solution.
Martin was recently chosen to lead Field to Faucet, a water quality program launched by The Ohio State University to ensure safe drinking water while maintaining an economically productive agricultural sector.
“It became obvious, when I was working in Louisiana on a project to manage Delta land loss and salinity, that working with the people was the key to success,” Martin said. Martin did his PhD dissertation at Louisiana State University on the interdisciplinary nature of protecting coastal areas via engineering, social sciences and marine biology.
Now, Martin is an ecological engineer in Ohio State’s Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering. For the past 10 years, he has focused on the Lake Erie basin, collaborating with researchers from a variety of disciplines.
Field to Faucet was conceived and funded by Bruce McPheron, Ohio State’s vice president for agricultural administration and dean for the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, which put $1 million toward the effort after dangerous microcystin levels in Lake Erie shut down Toledo’s water supply for two days in August 2014. Microcystin is a toxin made by some algae. It is also the first project area under the university's new Global Water Initiative, for which Martin is the faculty lead.
“Jay’s interdisciplinary approach in Louisiana and here in Ohio made him the ideal leader for Field to Faucet,” McPheron said. “Solving the water quality problem in Ohio will take many minds. Jay has the ability to bring people together to solve this complicated issue.”
Field to Faucet involves researchers from multiple Ohio State colleges and other regional universities. Already, five projects have launched, Martin said.
- One app under development will allow farmers to record nutrient application rates and methods. Future plans include developing further apps geared toward nutrient stewardship.
- Another project will develop a geospatial data warehouse with controlled access that will allow producers and researchers to secure and share publicly available data. It is likely the project will later serve as a model approach for a national program.
- Another focus is removing phosphorus and nitrogen from manure and from anaerobic digester discharge before these materials are applied to fields. This effort would especially benefit the watershed around Grand Lake St. Marys in western Ohio, where there are a large number of livestock farms.
- Unmanned aerial vehicles will be used in another project to provide real-time concentrations of microcystin in Lake Erie’s waters.
- The final project will develop a sensor to detect real-time concentrations of microcystin in Lake Erie’s waters.
Field to Faucet project funding will be managed by Ohio Sea Grant, which is housed at Ohio State and has a long history of facilitating interdisciplinary efforts in the Great Lakes. Ohio Sea Grant also is managing $2 million in related water quality research funds from the Ohio Board of Regents and matched by Ohio State and other universities across Ohio to address harmful algal blooms.
Along with Field to Faucet, the Global Water Initiative includes Wells to Wellness, a rural water sanitation and hygiene model for developing countries. Wells to Wellness will launch pilot research, teaching and outreach efforts this year in Tanzania. A third focus area on Coastal Resilience is also under development.