Cleveland, OH Ohio Sea Grant recently joined the Cuyahoga River Area of Concern (AOC) Advisory Committee in celebrating a major milestone in the river’s ecological recovery.
The committee held a public celebration in Cleveland on Nov. 16 after the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency announced that the Cuyahoga River now meets conditions for the removal of its Beneficial Use Impairment (BUI) for fish tumors and deformities.
“The event was a great way to get the public involved to help share the story of this incredible restoration that’s taken place within the Cuyahoga River,” said Dr. Scott Hardy, Ohio Sea Grant extension educator and chair of education and outreach for the AOC advisory committee.
In 1972, the U.S. and Canada passed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, requiring that the 43 most polluted sites throughout the Great Lakes, known as Areas of Concern, form local advisory committees to inform restoration priorities. Each committee identified significant problems at each site — Beneficial Use Impairments — that restrict waterway uses, present obstacles to healthy fish populations or degrade water quality.
The Cuyahoga River AOC, which includes the 47 northernmost miles of the river as it flows into Lake Erie, was originally listed as having 10 categories of impairments. Now, with the removal of the fish tumors and deformities BUI, the committee has successfully removed five out of 10 categories.
“So we’re halfway to delisting the Cuyahoga River as an Area of Concern,” Hardy said. “That is our committee’s goal.”
The Ohio EPA’s announcement means that rates of deformities, eroded fins, lesions, and tumors in fish in the river no longer exceed regional averages. Previous AOC successes include reducing contaminant levels in fish tissue, limiting excessive algal growth, and providing public river access.
At the event, held at Collision Bend Brewing Company overlooking the river itself, speakers from the AOC Advisory Committee shared how this progress was made possible through various management measures and restoration projects. Dozens of partner agencies, cities, nonprofits, and governmental groups have partnered to work toward the removal of the impairments to the Cuyahoga Area of Concern.
“If it were not for the continued support of a whole lot of dedicated individuals, the story of the Cuyahoga River would have a very different ending,” Hardy said. “It has been a pleasure to work with such a passionate and impressive group.”
To help lead the restoration efforts, Ohio Sea Grant has served on the advisory committee since January 2016 and directs the Public Outreach Subcommittee. The subcommittee brings the needs of the public to the attention of the larger group and helps to interpret and relay scientific information about the AOC to the public.
Notably, Ohio Sea Grant conducted an institutional analysis of the advisory committee that resulted in two published articles in academic journals in 2022 and changes to group voting processes, member orientation and procedures for disseminating information.
The AOC Advisory Committee is working to remove the other five BUIs, which include problems such as fish populations and habitat loss, macroinvertebrate community health, dredging restrictions, and beach closings. Their goal is to have all categories removed and the Cuyahoga River delisted as an AOC by 2030.
The committee continues to support restoration projects, conduct education and outreach events in local communities, and foster stakeholder relations. More information can be found at www.cuyahogaaoc.org.
Ohio Sea Grant is supported by The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES) School of Environment and Natural Resources, Ohio State University Extension, and NOAA Sea Grant, a network of 34 Sea Grant programs nation-wide dedicated to the protection and sustainable use of marine and Great Lakes resources. Stone Laboratory is Ohio State’s island campus on Lake Erie and is the research, education, and outreach facility of Ohio Sea Grant and part of CFAES School of Environment and Natural Resources.