EPA Gives Bleak Report Of Ohio Watersheds

CLEVELAND (AP) - Only one of Ohio's 330 rivers and streams is safe enough to swim and fish in, according to a recent state report.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency found only one watershed, the Clear Fork branch of the Mohican River east of Mansfield, that met the goals of the Clean Water Act, The Plain Dealer reported Wednesday.

Still, the EPA says progress is being made.

Data collected by biologists show that 12 watersheds meet some, but not all, of the Clean Water Act standards.

State biologist also found that nearly 50 watersheds, including the entire Chagrin River, have healthy and diverse amounts of fish and aquatic life, which is an indicator of good water quality.

While water quality has definitely improved over the last 30 years, today's pollution problems are more complex. The state has no power to regulate problems like storm water runoff, for example.

"We're holding our own in terms of water quality," said Lisa Morris, chief of the Ohio EPA's Division of Surface Water.

The report, required by the federal government every two years under the Clean Water Act, lists Ohio's impaired waterways and updates their cleanup status. This is the first time the data have been combined.

The findings are based on data collected during the last 10 years on fish, aquatic life and water samples.

But this report differs from the past ones in many ways. First, it breaks the state's rivers and streams into 330 watershed groups, areas drained by the river or stream. In the past, the state reported pollution problems by stream segments.

This report also includes data on whether water is safe for recreational use, which the EPA had not included before. Only nine watersheds have water that's safe for that use. But the EPA lacked data for more than half of Ohio.

Unlike previous reports, this one does not say how much of the state's waters are impaired. In the last report, the state said 881 segments out of 2,000 evaluated were impaired.

The state also lacks sufficient information for about a third of the watersheds.

Last fall, the National Wildlife Federation and two state conservation groups sued the U.S. EPA for not forcing Ohio to clean up its polluted rivers and streams.

Despite staff cuts, the EPA maintains it is working toward meeting its goal of making 80 percent of Ohio's rivers and waterways fishable and swimmable by 2010.

But one of the report's authors, Brian Alsdorf, an aquatic biologist, bluntly stated that the agency's goal "ain't gonna happen."

The pollution problems are too complicated to be resolved in eight years, he said.

"Am I a pessimist for saying that? I hope not," Alsdorf said. "I like to think of myself as an optimist and have great hope for the future. But I understand the nature of these problems and the political type of will that's needed."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)