Purpose of the Project
The Portage Lakes are a multi-use chain of lakes in Coventry Township, New Franklin, and Green, immediately south of Akron and the Ohio River-Lake Erie basin divide. They are part of the Portage Lakes State Park and are a regional recreation, economic, and natural resource. The lakes are the center of a thriving community and intense recreational use, with thousands of residents nearby and 300,000 visitors per year who participate in boating, fishing, swimming, visiting the local businesses, and enjoying the natural setting. The lakes receive water from 74 square miles of the developed Upper Tuscarawas River watershed. They are also actively managed for flood control and mandated water transfer north across the basin divide. Nutrients from the intense uses of the lakes and watershed have built up over years and decades, and the lakes have become eutrophic, over-enriched.
The nutrient-rich water feeds dense growth of vegetation in the same shallow areas where people live, do business, boat, fish, and swim, creating conflicts. The aquatic vegetation is essential for the lakes’ habitats and health, and the uses the lakes support, but the dense growth is a nuisance for boaters, property owners, and those tasked with flood control and water diversion.
The purpose of the Portage Lakes Management Plan was to develop a balanced approach to managing the aquatic plants and lakes, accommodating the various uses while protecting the lakes’ health and habitats. This required an integrated, coordinated approach that considered actions within the context of the interconnected lakes and watershed system. The collaborative approach has been instrumental in developing a shared understanding of the lakes, plants, community, and priorities.
The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) and other project partners include members from:
- Ohio Department of National Resources (ODNR)
- Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA)
- Portage Lakes Advisory Council (PLAC)
- Summit Soil and Water Conservation District
- Summit Metro Parks
- Summit County Public Health
- Summit County Department of Sanitary Sewer Services
- Green, New Franklin, Coventry Township, and Akron
- Lake scientists from AQUA DOC, EnviroScience, Inc., and Ohio State University
- Local businesses, interested volunteers, and residents
The project was supported by funding that NEFCO received from the Ohio EPA, which were pass-through funds from USEPA. Funds were also provided by NEFCO's dues-paying members.
NEFCO used existing data and site visits to map and characterize the lakes and lake processes, watershed, community, and aquatic vegetation. For the first five years, NEFCO worked with the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), and other community and agency members to develop a shared understanding of the lake conditions and priorities. With assistance from the TAC, NEFCO developed a draft plan for holistically managing the lakes system, compiling background information, context, and recommendations. The Portage Lakes Management Plan (PLMP) draws on recent research and successful programs in other states. NEFCO’s role in this project has shifted toward on-going support and assisted with the transition to management by the various partners and a new watershed coordinator at the Summit Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD). On July 19, 2023, the NEFCO General Policy Board, with the recommendation of the NEFCO Environmental Resources Technical Advisory Committee, accepted the PLMP as a final document, for use in public review meetings and discussion by the partners, as part of seeking community support. Partners may seek endorsements for future more specific iterations of this plan or develop new plans. It is anticipated and recommended that moving forward toward integrated lakes management will involve more opportunities for public participation and comment.
During the first three years, NEFCO conducted studies to characterize the lakes, plant occurrences, watershed, and public perceptions. During years 4 and 5, NEFCO compiled additional information and wrote the plan. All the Portage Lakes planning work involved discussions with the TAC, sharing information, comments, perspectives, ideas. Completing a draft plan was the beginning of a new, collaborative, integrated, technically based management approach. The TAC members have agreed to continue working together in a partnership and are collaboratively investigating approaches to manage plants in a balanced way and improve conditions in the lakes. Developing the necessary monitoring program and systematic program for lakes and aquatic plant management required a new level of effort and resources, but the partners were ready for that. During years 6 and 7, NEFCO and the partners concentrated on a gradual rollout of the PLMP and continued the development of a holistic approach to managing the lakes’ dense aquatic plants, with ODNR contracting with AQUA DOC, which completed the necessary aquatic plant inventory and suggested ways to control invasives. Public rollout of the PLMP and public outreach is ongoing by the partners. During the last quarter of FY2023, NEFCO staff coordinated with Summit SWCD and the Portage Lakes Public Library to develop a lakes-focused permanent library display – with periodical themes. Also, ODNR unveiled plans in 2023 to build a Portage Lakes visitor center with lake frontage.