Gray and Green Working Together in Ohio

Jun 6, 2022

Around Lake Erie, increased development, runoff, coastal erosion, and flooding all combine to threaten community resilience. The ability to integrate natural and built infrastructure is key to helping keep water clean and reducing erosion, but promoting it is complicated by the fact that most of the shoreline is privately held or agricultural. 

That’s why the Old Woman Creek Reserve has launched a slew of initiatives to help different members of the community understand how the “gray and the green” can work together to protect people, property, and quality of life. 

Clean Water Contractor Expo: This annual February event builds bridges between design engineers, permitters, project managers, and the site contractors who work in the Lake Erie Watershed. A unique platform for conversations surrounding sediment and erosion control and the installation of natural infrastructure, the Expo is very popular, drawing up to 125 attendees each year. This winter, the Expo focused on how contractors can build relationships with clients, so they also understand the rationale behind the designs and the decisions contractors make throughout the installation process. 

“How we all communicate the types of best management practices that are going to work is super important,” says Emily Kuzmick, Coastal Training Program coordinator at the Reserve. “Construction industries are critical and we don’t want to undermine them or leave them out of important conversations.” 

The Reserve partners with the Erie Conservation District on the Clean Water Contractor Program, a mutually beneficial partnership that allows the District to access Reserve resources and staff, while the Reserve benefits largely from the District’s local connections. You can read about the program on the District’s website here

Nature-Based Shoreline Training: With its shallow waters and developed rocky shoreline, Lake Erie is particularly vulnerable to high energy storm surge, erosion, winds, and flooding. Some waves reach up to nine feet—a problem exacerbated by private sea walls. To demonstrate how natural infrastructure can absorb wave energy and keep the shoreline in places, the Old Woman Creek Reserve is working with the Ohio Coastal Management Program (OCMP) to initiate a series of pilot projects. 

This spring, after a two-day training for contractors, landscapers, design engineers, and natural resource professionals, the Reserve installed a nature-based shoreline that incorporates vegetation with rock, stone, riprap, woody debris, and fallen trees. The site will be used for future installation and maintenance trainings. OWC NERR & OCMP  are working to establish other demonstration sites that explore the ecosystem response to different shorelines and better utilize public spaces for erosion control. They hope funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will turn this pilot project into a long term certification program with new pilot projects every few years.

The classroom portion of the Nature-Based Shoreline Certification that took place in early March.

“Some sites may require gray infrastructure as well,” says Kuzmick. “It’s a spectrum between a completely soft, or vegetated, living shoreline and one that is completely gray and hardened. Nature-based shorelines are somewhere in the middle, and trainings are useful because they present this nuance well.” 

Permeable pavers: Permeable pavers—which facilitate drainage—were just installed at the Reserve’s dormitories, as part of their goals of using green infrastructure and energy efficiencies when possible and being a good example for their community. 

“We’re trying to practice what we preach,” says Kuzmick. “We don’t want to just go out and tell others what to do. We try to incorporate good practices when we are able  so they can see for themselves how they look and function on-site.” 

Funded by a NERRS Procurement Acquisition and Construction grant, the permeable pavers are a good form of passive outreach and education, as visitors to the Reserve can easily see how the pavers work and can communicate what they learn about them to others.

The completed permeable pavers project.

NERRA is proud to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Coastal Zone Management Act—the legislation that led to the creation of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System. Want more Reserve stories delivered to your inbox? Subscribe to our newsletter.

ReservesOld Woman Creek, OhioGray and Green Working Together in Ohio