What’s in your local creek or stream? Using the EPA “My Watershed” water quality report (with GPS), you can easily discover all you need to know about the water quality in your area. Like, is there bacteria or worse fouling up the water, killing fish and getting people sick?
If you’re considering letting your dog jump into the river or your kid swim in a stream, you might want to first check the web map of “impaired waters”.
We did, and, last time EPA checked (2008) every major river and most minor streams in Northeast Ohio had some pollution. There were harmful bacteria in the Chagrin River near Eastlake, virus at Edgewater Beach, oil and grease and PCBs in the fish in Tinker’s Creek in Solon, ammonia and chlorine in the Rocky River and 100% of Doan Brook was unhealthy for fish.
Water pollution is an equal opportunity offender—it’s just as invisible but present in wealthy suburbs as the inner city. In fact, water pollution is almost assuredly growing in the new suburbs where (water-cleansing) wetlands are being destroyed, rivers shunted into pipes and forest paved over for more oil-soaked big lots, more houses using soaps and detergents, and more industry and illegal dumping.
What are “Impaired waters”? Section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act requires States to use monitoring data and other information to develop a list waters that will not meet water quality standards for a particular pollutant. States must submit this list every two years. States must then develop Total Maximum Daily Loads to restore these waters.
In the 1980s, the EPA helped set up four Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) in Ohio for the Ashtabula, Black, Cuyahoga and Maumee rivers. These are the State's most polluted and environmentally impacted rivers which empty into Lake Erie.
Most RAPs call for putting an end to harmful practices like dumping oil in sewers, or to pitch in by picking up your dog’s poop. As important as individual good housekeeping—like switching to non-phosphorous soaps and being careful not to spill oil and solvents—can be, the big picture is where we need to focus. That's because the problem isn't so much from a pipe at the end of a industrial plant as it is everywhere in a watershed.
If we want to seriously tackle Northeast Ohio’s water pollution problem, it will require a regional land-use plan with watershed protection goals. And tax incentives that favor development near existing infrastructure. Sewage plants don’t catch and clean all of our toxic and bacteria-laden waste water. The municipalities in the 12-county Northeast Ohio region need to finally set a goal to adopt water stewardship practices such as planting native habitat. Updated codes that protect water quality such as downspout disconnection and keeping corridors around rivers and creeks natural should also get on the regional agenda.
“We can’t live without it. We have to have clean drinking water,” Amy Holtshouse Brennan, director of Chagrin River Watershed Partners sums it up in this month’s focus on clean water.
To understand the important goals for long-term clean water around Lake Erie, we invite you to check out the Clean Water Agenda page, and post a comment.