By Dan Klepal
The Cincinnati Enquirer
WEST CHESTER TWP. - Mill Creek has received a "kidney" and a state lawmaker got a look at it Thursday. A 5-acre wetland was constructed along a 1,300-foot stretch of the creek in Butler County through a state grant. The $40,000 project - a price that doesn't include $90,000 worth of land, equipment and labor donated by Schumacher Dugan Construction Inc. - was completed about 18 months ago.
Wetlands act as nature's kidneys because they filter out chemicals from roads, parking lots and fields of row crops before those pollutants make their way into the water body.
While the new wetland isn't enough to completely clean up one of the most polluted waterways in the country, it appears to be doing its job: filtering tainted rainwater in a 40-mile radius, protecting the area from flooding, and providing a home for fish and other wildlife in the area.
State Rep. Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond who serves on the House Energy and Environment committee, toured the wetland Thursday and was told it is performing better than expected.
"We've had very low mortality with the trees and plants here, and the wildflowers have come in sooner than expected and they are more abundant than expected," said Craig Straub, who designed the wetland for the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments (OKI). "We planted species we believe were here before European intervention, in the densities that were here at the time."
Bruce Koehler, a senior planner for OKI, said a second grant application is pending in Columbus.
If approved, that $400,000 grant would build a second wetland nearby and also pay for education projects, bank stabilization against erosion and other improvements to the stream.
"Alone, this is a pinprick," Koehler said, referring to the health of the entire 28-mile stream that drains more than 160 square miles of land in Butler and Hamilton counties before it empties into the Ohio River. "But if you keep doing them, you can have (a larger) impact."
Most of the stream was straightened and, in some portions, given a concrete bottom decades ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help reduce flooding.
The action damaged the environment, destroying habitat for wildlife and removing trees that provided shade to keep water temperatures down in summer.
The stretch of Mill Creek near the wetland was straightened in the 1830s to keep it from flooding into the Miami-Erie Canal.
In addition to the channelization, towns and industries along the creek have used the water body as a sewer.
Chris Wunnenberg, director of development for Schumacher Dugan, said the project made sense to the company because the wetland serves as an area they can use to clean rainwater that drains from their nearby shopping center. It also helps protect them against flooding, he said.
The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency is expected to make a decision on OKI's most recent grant application in about a month.
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