After more than 22 years of restoration projects costing millions of dollars, Toledo’s long-beleaguered Ottawa River — once considered Ohio’s most polluted — is showing more comeback signs.
The latest came this week, with an announcement by Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Director Craig Butler that state health advisories against eating all fish species were replaced with less restrictive recommendations. It’s not entirely a clean bill of health, but it is another step in the right direction for a river not expected to be healed fully until 2030.
“Through state and local cleanup efforts, and with help from federal funding through programs like the [U.S. EPA’s] Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, we are now able to remove the comprehensive do-not-eat fish advisory for the Ottawa River that was put in place in 1991,” Mr. Butler said Monday inside Marblehead Lighthouse State Park.
The Trump Administration has targeted the eight-year-old Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for elimination.
The initiative has received bipartisan support from several members of Congress who say the program’s annual $300 million budget has yielded many tangible results, although few of its funds have gone to the Ottawa.
The biggest project was paid by federal Great Lakes Legacy Act funds, a program with a similar intent.
Last April, an Ohio EPA toxicologist, Brian Tucker, said the agency thinks it’ll be at least 2030 before the Ottawa is clean enough to eat fish from it and make body contact with any part of the river.
In its latest fish-consumption advisory, an annual report released this month, http://bit.ly/2oBZtsW, the Ohio EPA recommends no more than one meal a month of channel catfish, common carp, and golden shiner caught from the Ottawa River between Main Street in Sylvania and the river’s mouth that empties into Lake Erie. Meals of pumpkinseed sunfish caught from that area should be limited to once a week. Unless otherwise noted, the statewide advisory is no more than one meal a week of Ohio-caught fish.
Some areas in this year’s Ohio fish study were evaluated for the first time, and the general advisory was applied as a baseline, the Ohio EPA said.
In addition to the Ottawa, waters recognized as improved or less restrictive than the one-fish-per-week recommendation for certain species include Atwood, Belmont, and Loramie lakes, and Huron and Walhonding rivers.
Ottawa River cleanup efforts didn’t begin in earnest until 1995, when the city and various companies began erecting a steel wall along the most leaky side of the Dura Avenue landfill, one of several waterfront landfills where cancerous PCB-laden leachate had flowed into the water. After years of environmental studies, caps were installed over the worst landfills.
The biggest project was the $47 million environmental dredge the U.S. EPA conducted in 2009-10 along a 5.5-mile industrialized stretch of the river west of Suder Avenue.
The Ottawa River begins in Sylvania at the confluence of Ten Mile and North Ten Mile creeks.
Water flowing through Wildwood Preserve Metropark, the University of Toledo’s main campus, and other parts of West Toledo has been much better — save for some agricultural and urban runoff — than the lower 8.8 miles to the river’s mouth at western Lake Erie’s Maumee Bay.
The greatest concern has been in the mile-long hot zone from Stickney Avenue to Lagrange Street in North Toledo. That part of the river has been plagued by cancer-causing PCBs and PAHs, plus lead and other heavy metals, mostly from the leaking landfills.
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