Cuyahoga River to Killbuck Creek: Water Quality follows a long and winding path.

Karen Gotter, Water Quality Specialist

Starting on June 24, the WKSU radio station will be broadcasting a new series called “Watershed.” The topic and timing are both significant, as June 2019 is the 50-year anniversary of a fire on the Cuyahoga River that turned national attention to the condition of the Cleveland river. That particular fire was only one of many that had occurred on the Cuyahoga. Other rivers that ran through urban, industrialized areas had caught fire in many cities across the nation as well. 2014 commentary from Jonathon Adler in the Washington Post states that the significance of the 1969 fire, subsequent reporting, and follow-up changes in regulations and behaviors was that it wasn’t the “first time an industrial river in the United States caught on fire, but the last.”

I’ll admit that I am very interested in the stories that will be shared in this week’s program, where we can learn about the challenges and successes of bringing the Cuyahoga back from the brink. At the same time, I am probably more interested in making a comparison to the path of restoration that rivers I am more familiar with underwent. Thinking about the tributaries of the South Fork of the Sugar Creek, I am pretty comfortable saying that while there are still impairments, indicators of water quality have definitely improved after years of conservation work. The Clear Fork, Mohican, and Walhonding Rivers all have some localized issues, but are rivers that draw people in as tourist landmarks and are points of pride to those of us who are fortunate to live nearby and enjoy their bounty and beauty. But what about the Killbuck Creek?

A dragonfly catches its breath along the Killbuck Creek.

A dragonfly catches its breath along the Killbuck Creek.

Ironically, purchase of the ground for the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area began 50 years ago, too. Much of the work that began destabilizing the river and changing the hydrology of the watershed began much earlier, in the late 19th into the 20th century, as more land was cleared, and the river was dredged and straightened. But by the middle part of the 20th century, people were recognizing the human impacts on natural resources and landscapes. The blossoming ethic towards conservation and preservation were what launched local, state and Federal initiatives to clean up our act.

However, much of what made the Killbuck Valley a unique and important landscape feature was lost by then, and has not made a comeback. The geology and plant communities here that created a large wetland complex capable of mitigating storm flooding were destroyed when the dominant thought process was that wetlands were a nuisance to be battled against. Ohio has lost 90% of the natural wetlands once present on the landscape, second only to California. If there’s any silver lining in those numbers, it’s that now the Killbuck Marsh Wildlife Area is the largest remaining wetland area in Ohio, outside of the Lake Erie basin.

Macroinvertebrates are good indicators of water quality.

Macroinvertebrates are good indicators of water quality.

The benefits of wetlands are too numerous to talk about here, so I want to wrap up by thinking about what could have been, or what could be, in five, ten, or 50 years from now. If we had more wetlands paralleling the river, how many adjacent crop fields would be saved from being waterlogged? If we hadn’t cut back so many trees and built homes and businesses in the riparian areas and floodplains, would the river banks be more stable and able to handle the flow from large rainstorms? According to the EPA’s website, “The bottomland hardwood- riparian wetlands along the Mississippi River once stored at least 60 days of floodwater. Now they store only 12 days because most have been filled or drained.” In our wetter-than-ever spring, can we even fathom how valuable more wetland ground would have been to absorb 60 days worth of water? What could we be reporting on 50 years from now about the local efforts made to save the ground and livelihoods of the people who live around here? I’d like to think that Theodore Roosevelt would be proud that we heeded his words: “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”

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Karen Gotter, Killbuck Creek Watershed Coordinator

Karen joined the Holmes SWCD in January 2016. A current resident of Wooster, Karen splits her time between Holmes and Wayne counties, and the “home farm” near Bellville, Ohio. Since joining the staff, she has been involved with a variety of tasks within the office, including soil testing and nutrient recommendations, water sampling, conservation planning, field days and educational programming. She is on the state committee for the Ohio Envirothon, and is working with the multi-county water quality stewardship program, Credits 4 Conservation. She spends Tuesday mornings at the Farmerstown sale barn to increase SWCD’s presence in southern Holmes County, and she has taken charge of the MWCD cover crop cost-share program. The wide range of conservation projects, outreach, and technical assistance that the Soil and Water office provides is the main reason she looked for an opening in this field, and Karen considers herself extremely lucky to have found the perfect position in Holmes County. She can be reached at 330-600-3107 or

Make the Four R's Central to Your Plans

By Joe Christner, HSWCD Water Quality Technician

If you have been farming the last several years you have probably heard of the Four R’s (4R) of crop nutrient management. As you plan for 2019 growing season it is a good time to review what they are and how they fit into your operation.

The 4R Tomorrow Nutrient Stewardship program is being promoted to farmers by agriculture associations and state agencies alike. 4R is managing nutrients for the right SOURCE, right PLACE, right RATE, and right TIME. The goal is to reduce nutrients from leaving the farm degrading water quality. Adopting the principles and practices of 4R is a proactive approach to nutrient management that may prevent further state and federal regulations for fertilizer and manure applications.

The first R is the Right Source. The goal for this R is to match fertilizer type to crop needs by choosing fertilizer forms and sources based on plant-availability. Using nitrogen stabilizers as needed and taking credit for manure nutrients generated on the farm are tools to accomplish this goal.

The next R is Right Rate. Match the amount of manure and fertilizer nutrients to crop needs. Developing a nutrient management plan based on current soil test to determine the rate of fertilizer and manure for each crop and field will help to manage this R.

The third R is Right Time. The goal for this R is to match nutrient availability to when the crop needs them. Planned crop rotations, side dressing nitrogen to corn crops, incorporating manure and fertilizer, and developing manure storage and plans are tools to accomplish this R.

The 4th R is Right Place. Put and keep nutrients where the crops can best utilize them. Avoid winter manure & fertilizer application or identify low risk fields for emergency applications. Plant cover crops to reduce soil erosion and nutrient runoff. Cover crops also scavenge excess nutrients for the next crop.


I would like to suggest another R that can make these first four even more valuable to your operation and the environment. Records, written records. Plans are great, but records of what you actually did and when are even more useful to your management decisions.

Last week I was able attend the National No-Tillage Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. One of the presentations was a farm that has 20 years of records on every field. What is even more impressive is that he uses those records to make his management decisions. Based on these records most of his fields are no-till and cover cropped, and he makes money. He is very confident in his decisions and mentioned he sleeps well at night. Good decisions are made possible by good information.

So maybe the 5th R should be Records.

This is a great time of year to evaluate last year’s crop management and plan for this year. One of the ways to do that is to make a six-item list of things that worked for you and things that didn’t. Write down three strong points of your operation and three weak points. Simple, but it may point you in a direction as to where to spend time, money, and energy for this year.

Maybe one of the weak items on your list is records. You may want to put some time and effort to improve written records this year and see if it will be valuable for decision making in the future. Holmes SWCD may be able to assist you with application record forms or even a free smartphone app called OnMrk.

Give us a call

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Joe Christner, Water Quality Technician

Joe Christner came to Holmes SWCD in 2001 with experience and knowledge drawn from 20-plus years of dairy farming. He grew up on a small farm near New Bedford, Ohio. His background interest and involvement in agriculture from the time he was a young man give him an empathy and understanding of the needs and concerns of today’s farmers. Joe can assist you with conservation plans for your farming operation, including nutrient management planning and record keeping. Water quality, soil health, and conserving the resources needed for the next generation and beyond is very important to Joe.
Contact Joe at 330-674-2811 or

Don’t let a little jam become a big problem!

Don’t let a little jam become a big problem!

Landowners have the right to manage the water courses on their property, and they have the responsibility to do so. Simply clearing foreign debris from the channel is not a violation of local, state, or federal laws, if done following proper Best Management Practices (BMPs), which are basically two simple rules: Do not operate equipment in the streambed, and do not leave the debris in the floodplain.

Properly Size Your Feedlot to Limit Mud

Chuck Reynolds, District Conservationist

USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

May 2, 2018

Hopefully this winter is finally coming to an end.  It’s been one that many of us would like to forget.  Recently, it been rain, more rain and with that comes mud especially if you are dealing with livestock.

 As I drive through the countryside, I have noticed that livestock that are turned out in large “exercise areas” and already have the entire lot torn up.  Recently I attended a meeting hosted by the Ohio Department of Agriculture dealing with livestock waste, feedlots, milkhouse water, and soil erosion.  The presenter stated that areas with “no vegetation are considered a feed lot and vegetative areas are considered pasture”.  With that being said, I see a number of “feedlots” that are extremely large for the number of animals on them.  With water quality and soil erosion issue concerns in the public eye more, reducing lot sizes would reduce erosion and improve water quality.

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Between Midwest Planning Service planning data and the Natural Resources Conservation Service Technical Guide information, local NRCS/SWCD staff can provide technical services with a field visit to review your situation to possibly solve the resource issues and meet your objectives.  Using the MWPS planning data, a 1300 pound cow only needs between 300-500 square feet if using a lot.  This number can be reduced to as low 60-75 square feet per cow if the surface is paved or concrete.  Many of the situations I see, already have some if not all the hard surface they need.  With some conservation planning, additional conservation practices like pasture management, rotational grazing, heavy use areas, fence, access lanes, conservation cover, pipeline and watering facilities may be able to be utilized to meet your goals and reduce erosion and improve the water quality running off. 

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Chuck Reynolds

Chuck is the District Conservationist for Holmes and Coshocton counties with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.  He began his career as a summer trainee in 1981 with the Soil Conservation Service and has been located in Ashland, Delaware, Harrison, and Fairfield counties prior to moving to Holmes County August of 1984.  He graduated from The Ohio State University in 1983 with a Bachelor of Science degree in agriculture.   Chuck is married to Beth (Oswald) and resides near Berlin.  Chuck and Beth have two sons, Luke and Cole located in Columbus.  He also has a 215 acre farm in Knox County that he owns in partnership with his mom and brother. Many conservation practices have been implemented and maintained as part of the operation. Contact Chuck at 330-674-2811 or

“Fresh Country Air” and Clean Water Go Hand-in-Hand

“Fresh Country Air” and Clean Water Go Hand-in-Hand

In our neck of the woods,  legislators trust producers’ good judgment to avoid spreading manure in conditions that could allow run-off to contaminate surface waters. The bad news is that if manure does make it to the water, a producer can face civil penalties ranging as high as $10,000—just the same as farmers in the Western Lake Erie Basin. Holmes SWCD DIstrict Technician John Lorson covers the details of this change in protocol and howSoil and Water staff members are always can help producers identify best management practices.

Keeping Soil Where It Belongs

Keeping Soil Where It Belongs

Soil loss may one of the most damaging aspects of production agriculture. It has a tremendous effect on both soil health and water quality. Under the best case scenario, soil can only rebuild at a rate of 0.24 tons per acre per year. When you’re losing soil, you’re losing both yield and money. Holmes SWCD Water Quality Technician Joe Christner helps you run the numbers and evaluate how topsoil loss may be affecting your bottom line.