If you don’t remember the algal bloom that shut down the drinking water system in Toledo, Ohio, in 2014, you may not think what happens in Ohio affects you. Jennifer Thum hopes you reconsider.
Water from portions of six counties in northeast Indiana drain to Lake Erie through the Maumee River. What happens in Indiana watersheds directly impacts water quality in faraway Toledo. And the steps that Thum and others take to find solutions create a model that communities anywhere in Indiana could follow to address water quality issues.
Thum has a dual role within the Indiana State Department of Agriculture as northeast team leader for ISDA employees and support specialist for 19 soil and water conservation districts.
Here is Indiana Prairie Farmer’s interview with Thum:
Why are you so passionate about what you do? I grew up in Michigan around the Great Lakes. They’re very special to me. We now live in Fort Wayne, and it’s a special place, too. I’m excited to help farmers, landowners and people who live in cities discover that if we work together, we can make a difference in water quality, even in Lake Erie.
How did you become so involved in the Lake Erie Basin effort? I serve as the governor’s appointment to the Greater Lake Erie Basin Partnership. It involves Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. We meet twice a year, and the leadership team meets four times annually. It’s not just a paper group — we have a plan of action and get things done. That’s exciting.
Two years ago, the partnership received a $20 million federal grant. Indiana received about $1.4 million of that total. It’s provided money for education and cost-share, and it’s helped us make progress.
How is the money used in Indiana? A good portion goes toward cost-share and education. Ohio chose to set up demonstration farms, but many farmers and landowners here are Amish. They don’t accept cost-share, but they accept technical assistance. One program offers soil sampling. We also work with them on manure management. The Natural Resources Conservation Service is a great partner.
What are your biggest challenges? About 70% of the land is agricultural. Agriculture initially got lots of blame. We’ve turned that into an opportunity to educate everyone. The basin includes urban areas, including Toledo, Detroit and Fort Wayne, and another country — Canada. Keeping everybody in the loop is crucial.
How does Indiana support this effort? The Legislature approved two permanent resource specialists for the western Lake Erie Basin in 2018. It was a tremendous help. Kate Sanders and Lindsey Bloom fill those slots. We’re in the field, pulling samples for soil and manure analysis, and promoting water quality.
What are your future plans? We want to keep momentum going. We’re currently making a strong effort to work with retail fertilizer outlets, and they’re excited. Our basic message is that we’re all in this together — water quality affects everyone.