The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District (MWCD) in Ohio, US, will receive a US$1.6M loan to help prepare and implement a plan of maintenance and improvements on reservoirs and dams in the Muskingum river basin that will yield an estimated US$2.5B worth of benefits within the watershed.

The Ohio Water Development Authority (OWDA) approved the loan funds during a meeting in December. The OWDA, a state agency that provides funding for environmental infrastructure projects, previously loaned MWCD US$3.8M in 2004 for the conservancy district to begin the planning process.

‘This is a necessary step in the continued work by the MWCD to begin the crucial projects that will protect the system of reservoirs and dams that provide flood reduction and water quality benefits in our region,’ said John M. Hoopingarner, MWCD executive director/secretary. ‘The use of these funds, along with those received originally from OWDA, will help the MWCD reach the point where it will begin the critical projects that will protect the citizens, industries and organizations vital to our region.’

MWCD has been working over the past several years to implement a US$270M plan of maintenance and improvements to the system of reservoirs and dams, as well as water quality enhancements. Projects in the plan would be funded through a proposed assessment of property owners in the 18-county MWCD region. There are an estimated 750,000 parcels of property subject to the proposed assessment by the MWCD.

Ohio law details how conservancy districts are organised, operate and obtain their funding, as well as the steps the districts must follow in order to levy an assessment.

To date, MWCD reports that it has expended slightly more than US$4M related to the proposal. Specifically, funds have been used to establish a Geographic Information System (GIS), inform the public through a public information and education program, legal and court costs, and staff expenses.

MWCD originally had stated that its goal was to begin maintenance and improvement work in 2007. However, because of the length of time needed to complete the legal process related to exceptions filed by more than 5000 property owners to projected assessments released early in 2006, the plan was delayed by one year and is projected to begin in 2008.

Since its inception, the MWCD system of reservoirs and dams has prevented more than US$6B worth of potential property damage from flooding, according to federal government estimates. An independent study of the potential benefits of the MWCD maintenance and improvement plan estimates that once enacted, the region will receive about US$2.5B in future benefits compared to its initial US$270M investment. In most cases, MWCD will not directly perform the work, but will partner with interested agencies and private individuals, meaning the plan also will lead to the protection and creation of much-needed jobs with contracts enacted with private firms.

Projects that have been identified to be addressed include working with the federal government for dam safety improvements, as well as work on sediment removal, shoreline protection, water quality improvements, watershed management and reservoir operations. The MWCD manages the reservoirs behind the dams in the system, while the federal US Army Corps of Engineers operates the dams.

MWCD estimates the assessment will generate more than US$11M annually for projects to maintain and improve flood reduction and water quality programs in the watershed.