Healing Lake Erie with in-stream sediment collectors Featured

One of the major problems for Lake Erie is the runoff that happens when there is a heavy rain. The soil runs off the fields and yards, into the streams and rivers, and out to the lake, carrying with it soil and nutrients, some of which also contribute to algae blooms. The farmer loses valuable topsoil and nutrients. The streams and lake fill with silt, damaging fish and wildlife habitat and necessitating dredging that further damages stream and lake beds and shorelines.

Dwight and Lisa Clary are life long, full-time grain farmers from Kansas, Ohio. Their land feeds into the Muskellunge, a tributary that feeds into the Sandusky River north of Fremont. They practice "conservation agriculture", their term for using the best possible practices for the farmer and the land and waters. They have been practicing 100% no-till farming for 31 years, and plant cover crops to hold the soil and nutrients over the winter. 

The Clarys saw a need and an opportunity, and, in the "16 hours a day riding on a tractor" came up with the concept for the Clary In-Stream Sediment Collector. The idea came over time. “From concept to construction, it took us 10 years,” says Dwight. The first one was built in the fall of 2010.

Simply stated, the collector is placed in the bed of a feeder stream where it collects sediments. The collected sediment is removed about twice a year and the valuable topsoil and nutrients are returned to the fields.

By collecting the sediment before it passes through cities, the sediment does not become contaminated and therefore can be returned to the land. By keeping the streams healthy, there is no need to strip vegetation and river bottoms as streams become blocked. The goal, says Clary, is “to systematically and strategically install (the collectors) in sub-watersheds, so that the stream will drop its load of sediment where nature wants to, restoring the natural profile of the stream.”

In the 2200 miles of sub-watershed streams of the Sandusky watershed, if 1000 collectors are installed, at least 100,000 tons per year of sediment would be removed, enough to cover 100 acres six inches deep.

Who would benefit?

• The farmers, by retaining and returning soil and nutrients, improved drainage
• The townships, counties, state and US governments, improvements in highways and bridges
• The cities, lower cost to clean drinking water
• Soil and Water Conservation Districts, lower cost of ditch maintenance
• Private marinas, lower cost of dredging
• Sportsmen and recreational boaters, healthier streams, rivers and lakes
• Wildlife, improved habitat 

The cost

The Clarys are giving away the technology, giving back the soil and the nutrients and giving back to the environment, and giving to the generations to come.

They are not applying for a patent or a grant, and therefore have been able to move more swiftly. The collectors are built with volunteer labor. Donations have been made by community-based groups. The US Fish and Wildlife Service is a co-sponsor. A contractor has bid to build the collectors for $10,000 each. The cost can be brought down by pre-casting and by the quantities of scale. Dwight estimates that they may be able to cut that cost in half.

Compared to conventional and controversial stream clearing, which costs about $1.50 per foot or $16,000 per mile, that results in stripped banks and streambeds, and that has to be frequently repeated, the collectors are a much more cost-efficient and environmentally friendly solution. It is estimated the stream-collector boxes will last about 100 years, and the only maintenance is the emptying of sediment twice a year. “This system works with nature, leaving a small footprint on the stream system,” says Clary.

Emily emphasized,”We are not doing this to make money. We want to contribute, and to stay ahead of being regulated, by doing something that is economically and environmentally viable.”

Going forward

The Sandusky River Watershed Coalition & Heidelberg University in Tiffin are working together to get a grant to build two more Clary In-Stream Sediment Collectors in the Muskellunge and do research on those two as well as the one that is already there.

Beck's Hybrids (a privately owned seed company from Indiana) bought a farm next to the OSU-connected Farm Science Review about 20 miles west of Columbus, (along I-70) They plan to build a collector there and hope to have research done on it.

A farmer from Ottawa County is going to build a collector on the stream on his farm.

Erie County Soil and Water Conservation District representatives are exploring ways to build several collectors in Erie County.

The West Virginia EPA heard about the collectors and visited to learn about them for the part of the state that drains into the Potomac River which drains into the Chesapeake Bay, a distressed watershed.

A representative from New York State is exploring the use of the collectors to improve the drinking water in the New York City water reservoir.

There have also been calls from Minnesota and from Michigan Trout Fishermen.

The Clarys welcome visitors, and have had groups visit from as far away as England. At their field day, about 70 state and local officials, media and guests attended.

“We are still giving it (the technology) away, and so are others who are involved. We can’t do this all by ourselves. We started with just us, but need help to carry forward,” echoed the Clarys.

For more information, contact Dwight Clary at Clary Farms at 419.457.7361 or 419.619.7631, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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