Water quality improves slightly

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Water quality improves slightly

Water continued on B2

COLUMBUS — The quality of Ohio waterways has improved slightly in the past two years, but serious concerns remain about excess nutrients and drainage near Dayton and other major cities, according to a new report by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The agency’s draft 2012 water-quality report — a biannual analysis required by the federal Clean Water Act — found that 57.7 percent of waterways analyzed in the state are meeting quality goals.

It’s a small increase from the 56.7 percent in 2010.

“That’s pretty limited,” said Anthony Sasson, freshwater conservation coordinator with the Nature Conservancy in Ohio. “We still have a long way to go.”

The report focuses on four elements of water quality: aquatic life, recreational use, and human health related to both fish consumption and drinking water.

The agency analyzed more than 100,000 water samples, 26,000 fish samples and 12,000 aquatic insect samples gathered by the EPA, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, area universities and local health departments.

If a waterway failed to meet standards in any of the four categories, it was deemed “impaired.” The new report removed 260 waterways previously listed as impaired, but added 244.

The report found a slight decrease in the quality of the state’s largest rivers, from 93 percent meeting standards in 2010 to 89 percent in the new report. But that’s a large improvement over the past 25 years: Only 21 percent met standards in the 1980s.

The new report also included more data on the rivers that flow through Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Dayton. The Scioto (Columbus area), Great Miami (the lower section from Dayton and Butler County to Cincinnati) and Cuyahoga rivers (Cleveland/Akron area) must cope with “chronic urban stress” linked to wastewater, storm water and drainage backup, Sasson said.

“These are the problem children,” he said.

Still, there are signs of progress, particularly in northern Ohio near Lake Erie. Black River, located in Lorain County just west of Cleveland, for instance, has seen a significant decrease in tumors and deformities that previously plagued the fish in those waters, thanks to increased funding and restoration efforts.

“That’s real progress,” Sasson said. “It’s been slow but real.”

Still, excessive nutrients and pollutants continue to be an issue in many waterways, depleting oxygen and degrading the quality of aquatic ecosystems.

One concern is toxic blue-green algae, which can grow thick in water polluted with phosphorus from fertilizer, manure and sewage that are washed into streams.

The algae, which can excrete liver and nerve toxins, have been a major problem at Grand Lake Saint Marys in western Ohio and western basin of Lake Erie.

Heidi Griesmer, spokeswoman for the state EPA, said that “nonpoint sources” of pollution, such as agricultural or industrial waste that cannot be pinpointed to one specific location, are among the state’s biggest challenges.

The Clean Water Act requires that states work to improve all impaired waterways. Once the report is approved by the federal EPA, a schedule will be developed to address those problems, Griesmer said.

The Ohio EPA is accepting public comments on the draft report until Feb.6.

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