The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency reported yesterday that more of the state s waterways need to be cleaned up than they did two years ago.
The report found 242 waterway sections and 21 large rivers need improvement, up from the 205 sections of waterways and 15 large rivers identified in its 2002 report.
Linda Oros, an EPA spokesman, said the increase may not mean that Ohio s waterways are getting dirtier. The agency used additional criteria to classify water quality and had better samples to evaluate for the recent report.
“It s hard to establish a trend in water quality right now,” Ms. Oros said. “Some things have improved and some things have not.”
The EPA evaluates the quality of Ohio s beaches, rivers, and creeks every two years using several measures, including bacteria levels.
In a list prioritizing cleanup projects, the western and central Lake Erie shorelines and the Sandusky River from its headwaters to Wyandot County s Broken Sword Creek ranked in the top 15 waterways that need improvement.
Two-thirds of the Ohio waters sampled did not meet state standards for recreational use because bacteria levels were too high, the report said.
One focus of bacteria sampling is public beaches. Most of Ohio s 22 Lake Erie beaches had safe bacteria counts, but eight of the beaches - including those at Camp Perry, Port Clinton, and Maumee Bay State Park - closed for more than 23 percent of the recreation season over the last five years because of high bacteria levels.
In Lucas County, officials have sought for years to determine the cause of high bacteria counts at Maumee Bay State Park. The counts have caused the park to post warnings at its Lake Erie beach and at its inland lake over the years.
“It s not clear in many cases what the sources of the pathogens are that are contaminating the beaches. Narrowing down the sources in a particular area has been very challenging,” said Dr. Jeffery Foran, president of Citizens for a Better Environment, an advocacy group for the Great Lakes region. A number of other northwest Ohio beaches, however, had few problems, including Crane Creek State Park, Kelleys Island State Park, and East Harbor State Park in Ottawa County.
Many northwest Ohio waterways, including part of the Maumee, Ottawa, Tiffin, and Auglaize rivers, have substandard water quality, according to the Ohio EPA.
Additional testing of some area waterways caused the state to conclude that they need cleanup as well. These include Wolf Creek; the Blanchard River between Hancock County s Ottawa Creek and Putnam County s Riley Creek; the Maumee River from Defiance to Henry County s South Turkeyfoot Creek; from Bad Creek in Fulton County to Seneca County s Beaver Creek, and most of the Portage River.
“We have a long way to go to improve our waterways,” Keith Dimoff, assistant director of the Ohio Environmental Council, said.
In its recent report, the EPA judged water quality using fish consumption advisories, which are based on harmful chemicals found in fish. The agency did not use the advisories in its 2002 report, prompting criticism from environmental groups.
“We thought that fish advisories should be a reason to list waterways as unhealthy,” Mr. Dimoff said. “We re very glad to see that the EPA now considers that.”
The Ohio EPA is accepting public comments on the report s draft through its web site at www.epa.state.oh.us/dsw. It will submit the final report to the U.S. EPA for approval in April.