Less is more when it comes to Toledo's Swan Creek.
Canoeing down what area nature enthusiasts call the city's hidden treasure, 16 city, county, and state environmentalists marveled yesterday at the natural waterway's comparatively tidy state and mildly odorous air.
"I think our sewage and drainage crews here have done an incredible job of clearing up the degree of garbage," said Chuck Campbell, a project manager at Toledo's division of environmental services.
He said the work done clearing abandoned shopping carts and city trash cans, among other things, from the creek's banks helps control flooding, improves water quality, and makes the creek "considerably less smelly."
Over the past year, the city's division of sewers and drainage services has increased its efforts to clear blockage, clean ditch lines, and cut down trees obstructing the creek's water flow.
"•'Swamp Creek' is one of our biggest challenges," said Darlene Hale, who has been with the city division for four years.
Just last week, a crew of five began removing a locust tree that had fallen across the creek. It took three days for the group, using about 200 feet of cable, to cut up and relocate the tree, which was four feet in diameter and covered in prickly thorns.
The sewers and drainage division has removed 10 to 12 similar blockages this year.
Such obstacles were what caused a first-time canoer, Don Mullen, to declare early on in yesterday's 10-mile paddle, "I think we're getting more bank than creek."
Struggling to pull his canoe up the muddy embankment where a logjam had rendered the creek impassable, he asked his companions how many more times he should expect to undertake the process because of an obstacle.
Laughing, Cooper Suter, who had brought his 10-year-old daughter, Winie Barchick-Suter, and an array of wood-cutting tools along on the trip, replied that he had so far encountered noticeably fewer logjams clogging the creek than in years past.
And when the group stopped for lunch, Winie proudly exclaimed, "18 times chain saw, 9 times ax!" - describing the number of times her father had fired up his chain saw or whipped out his ax to whack at a branch, log, or stump hampering the group's downstream advance.
His efforts, of benefit not just to his compatriots but to future adventurers as well, were a reminder that while Swan Creek has been tidied up in the recent past, there is much work to be done.
The most pressing issue is Toledo's combined sewage overflows, which need to be eliminated, said Elizabeth Wick of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.
Such sewer systems carry rainwater runoff, industrial wastewater, and domestic sewage in the same pipe. The systems are supposed to transport all of their wastewater to a sewage treatment plant before releasing it into a water body.
But during times of heavy rain or snowmelt, the volume of the wastewater can exceed the treatment plant's capacity and the mixed wastewater overflows into Swan Creek or other bodies of water.
The city has three combined sewage overflows, one of which empties into Swan Creek.
The city is midway in a 15-year, $450 million project to upgrade Toledo's sewer system and stop the release of raw sewage into Swan Creek and the Maumee and Ottawa rivers.
Incremental increases in sanitary sewer rates over the next 15 years will fund the project.
"It's a fantastic community resource and natural ecosystem," Mr. Suter said. "It should be protected."
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