Toledo Harbor Pilot Project

This report examines the results of a two-year pilot study aimed at addressing Toledo Harbor’s dredging problems through a multi-part plan that includes an extensive land treatment erosion control program to reduce the source of sediment.

Executive Summary

Each year, on the average, the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers spends approximately $2.2 million to dredge 850,000 cubic yards of sediment from Toledo Harbor. The dredging is very costly and disposal of the dredged material creates environmental problems. Currently the material is disposed of either by confinement in disposal facilities, or by open lake dumping. These practices are expensive and/or environmentally sensitive.

An interagency study team has recommended a multi-part plan to reduce the dredging problem. One component of the plan is an extensive land treatment erosion control program to reduce the source of sediment. The goal for the agricultural component of the program is to reduce dredging by 130,000 cubic yards or 15%. In 1995 the Corps and the Natural Resources Conservation Service entered into a partnership and a two year pilot project to demonstrate the effectiveness of such an approach.

The pilot project provided $700,00 in Corps of Engineers funding to NRCS. Funds were utilized provided to individual counties to develop locally led sediment reduction strategies and to implement sediment reduction activities. Over 22 counties in the Maumee Watershed participated. Counties used the funding to promote conservation tillage and other practices which would reduce sediment delivery to the harbor.

Analysis of conservation tillage trends for the project period showed that project counties had higher rates of conservation tillage than all Ohio counties. The analysis showed conservation tillage rates continued to increase within the project counties, at the same time they were leveling off or declining in non project counties. Based on increasing conservation tillage acres, the report predicts that sediment reduction is currently at 53% of the goals as compared to the 1992 base condition. Approximately half of the goal still remains to be achieved.

During the project period two independent studies were released which supported the project approach and cost effectiveness. The Lake Erie Agricultural Systems For Environmental Quality Study, by Heidleberg College and others, confirmed that increasing conservation tillage acres in the Maumee Watershed is resulting in decreased sediment concentrations in the Maumee River. An economic analysis conducted by Ohio State University projected that a 15% reduction in dredging would result in an annual savings of $1.3 million in reduced dredging and confined disposal facility costs.

As part of the pilot project NRCS prepared a detailed analysis of the effect of Conservation Buffers on sediment reduction in the harbor. The analysis concluded that widespread implementation of the conservation buffer practices within the watershed could provide 29,000 cubic yards of sediment reduction to help meet project goals. Conservation buffers are new tools which should be incorporated into future project plans to increase project effectiveness.

The project report concludes that two years in not enough time to effect the long term changes needed to see actual results in the harbor. It proposes full implementation of the long term Soil Conservation Program plan as contained in the Phase III report. The report recommends a six year project funded at the levels originally proposed as part of the Phase III report, with additional funding to accelerate the Conservation Buffer Initiative within the watershed. The report also proposes a Trust Fund for the Harbor to maintain project accomplishments long term.

Chapter 1: Introduction

The Toledo Harbor Sediment Reduction Project is a pilot project by the Natural Resources Conservation Service to demonstrate how upland erosion control can reduce sediment delivery and dredging needs in the Toledo Harbor. This report will summarize the project activities and accomplishments including:

  • Goals
  • Project Activities
  • Project Accomplishments
  • Conclusions and Future Recommendations

The Port of Toledo is one of the Great Lakes busiest, with annual shipping values reaching into the tens of millions of dollars. The Port also represents the most severe dredging problem on the Great Lakes, accounting, on the average, for one-fourth of all the dredging dollars expended each year to maintain Great Lakes harbors. The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers spends, on the average, $2.2 million dollars each year to remove an average of 850,000 cubic yards of sediment to maintain the ship channel to twenty-six feet of navigable depth (Sohngen et. al, 1998). When the additional long term costs of constructing and maintaining confined disposal facilities to accept the dredged material are included, average annual dredging costs approach $4-5 million per year.

In addition to the economic costs associated with dredging, there are numerous environmental costs and issues. Foremost of these are the two issues of open lake disposal and the construction of new confined disposal facilities.

Currently, part of the dredged material is disposed of by dumping in the open lake. There are various viewpoints by both resource management agencies and the general public as to the environmental acceptability of this practice. State and/or Federal Environmental Protection Agencies must issue permits under the water quality regulations to allow open lake disposal of the dredged material. These agencies have indicated that future permits may be at risk unless satisfactory progress is made towards alternatives which will reduce the frequency of dredging and/or open lake disposal.

The dredged material which is not disposed of in the open lake is placed in confined disposal facilities. These facilities are filling up and eventually there will be a need to find additional space for that material which must be disposed of in a confined disposal facility. Siting and construction of new confined disposal facilities is difficult because of the lack of available space on land, the environmental concerns of placing new facilities in the lake, and the costs involved.

Chapter 2: Toledo harbor Project background

Long-Term Management Study (LTMS)

For the previously mentioned reasons, and to insure the long term economic viability of the Toledo Harbor, Congress instructed the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to work with Federal, State and Local Resource Management Agencies to carry out a team approach to solve the dredging problem in Toledo Harbor. In April of 1992, the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works directed the Corps of Engineers to form a group to develop a Long Term Management Strategy (LTMS) for the Toledo Harbor. The group consisted of representatives from:

  • United States Environmental Protection Agency
  • City of Toledo
  • Natural Resources Conservation Service
  • Maumee RAP
  • Ohio Environmental Protection Agency
  • Toledo Port Authority
  • U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  • Corps of Engineers
  • Ohio Department of Natural Resources
  • Ohio Lake Erie Office

The group organized into an Executive Committee, which consisted of leaders of the above named agencies, and a study team which consisted of the agencies corresponding technical specialists. These groups met over a period of several years to develop the Long-Term Management Strategy for the harbor. As the study team carried out its deliberations, it became apparent that due to the magnitude of the problem, no one element or agency could solve the dredging problem on its own. The strategy, which was eventually adopted and outlined in the phase III report, contained several key elements including:

  • Soil Conservation Technologies to apply upland erosion control and stop the sediment at its source
  • Confined Disposal Facility (CDF) Management to extend the useful life of the existing Confined Disposal Facility.
  • Recycling and reuse of the dredged material for beneficial uses.
  • Studies to use the dredged material to nourish wetlands.
  • Studies to increase the capacity of the CDF.

Agricultural Goal

Each of the elements selected would make a significant contribution to reducing the dredging problem. Therefore, goals were assigned to each of the components in the Long-Term Management Plan. The goal assigned to agriculture was to reduce sediment originating from agricultural sources by an amount that would reduce dredging by 130,000 cubic yards (or 15%) each year. The 15% annual reduction in dredging is compared to the amount dredged in the 1992 reference condition.

Download Chapters 5-11 and Appendices 4 & 5
*Appendices 1-3 are available in hard copy only. To obtain copies, send an email to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Ohio State Office; call them at (614) 469-6932 or write to them at 200 N. High Street, room 522, Columbus, OH 43215.


Baker, Dr., David B, F.G. Calhoun, and G. Mastisoff, 1998. Lake Erie Agricultural Systems for Environmental Quality Project, Heidleberg College, Ohio State University, and Case Western Reserve University.

Cangelosi, Allegra, 1998. Personal Communication, Northeast Midwest Institute, Washington D. C.

Davis, Steve, and Norm Widman, 1998. Analysis of Conservation Buffer Effectiveness for the Toledo Harbor Project. Columbus, Ohio.

Sohngen Brent, and Jon Rausch, June 1991. Soil Erosion in the Maumee River Basin: A Case Study Using Market Methods to Value Environmental Externalities (Draft)

Buffis, R.L., and Wayne Achor, Natural Resources Conservation Service, February, 1993. Erosion and Sedimentation Dynamics of the Maumee River Basin and Their Impact on Toledo Harbor. Columbus, Ohio.

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Toledo Harbor Long Term Management Study, Phase III Report, Buffalo, New York.