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Ohio EPA Announces Results of Middle Scioto River and Select Tributaries Study; Exceptional Biology Found on Main Stem

Ohio EPA is announcing the results of its 2009-2010 biological and water quality study of the middle Scioto River and select tributaries in Central Ohio. The Agency found the biology was good on 52 miles of the Scioto River main stem. Exceptional fish communities were recorded at 15 main stem sites. From Big Darby Creek to the Little Scioto River, approximately 85 percent of the main stem sites that were studied in Union, Delaware, Franklin and Pickaway counties met designated aquatic life use goals for the fish and macroinvertebrates (aquatic insects and mussels).

Nearly a dozen species of freshwater mussels were collected, mostly downstream from Columbus; these species included the deer toe mussel, a state-listed species of concern, and two threatened species--fawn’s foot and three-horned wartyback. The fawn’s foot population was found to have expanded 10 miles upstream compared to Ohio EPA’s 1996 biosurvey. The three-horned wartyback was collected from the Scioto River in Franklin County for the first time by Ohio EPA in 2009. The three locations from which it was collected represent a re-establishment of this species to a reach of river that was once decimated from improperly treated wastewater.

Only 11 percent of the Scioto River met federal Clean Water Act biology goals in the 1980s, and today, 90 percent of the river sports healthy aquatic communities--a direct result of concerted efforts to reduce combined sewer overflows and improve wastewater treatment plant operations, industrial pretreatment, wastewater discharge regulation and industrial storm water practices. The city of Columbus is addressing wet weather overflows via capital improvements to sewers and treatment plants. These infrastructure improvements should result in even further improved biological performance downstream from Columbus.

From Columbus to Circleville, Ohio EPA has studied fish extensively since 1979. As part of the Agency’s 2009-2010 middle Scioto River watershed study, a total of 30,908 fish representing 82 species were collected, including 14 species very sensitive to pollution. This diversity reflects the overall integrity of the river basin.

Generally, good physical stream habitat quality was seen throughout the study area. Excellent stream habitat was noted at 17 of 44 fish sampling locations sites. More specifically, some of the best biological communities were noted around Circleville, and the fish communities of Bokes Creek and Powderlick Run showed steady improvement over time, likely due to improved agricultural practices and stream restoration efforts. An intensive biomonitoring survey of the entire Bokes Creek watershed is planned for 2013.

Ohio EPA’s 2009-2010 study evaluated O’Shaugnessy and Griggs reservoirs and 19 tributaries for aquatic life and recreational use potential, in addition to evaluating the Scioto River main stem. Nearly 60 percent of the entire basin (including both the main stem and its tributaries) fully attained its designated aquatic life use designation; another 19 percent partially attained. Most of the main stem (85 percent) fully attained aquatic goals. Nearly 50 percent of the tributaries were fully attaining such goals and 22 percent were partially attaining. Others did not attain aquatic life use and recreation goals, such as Kian Run in Columbus, which was impacted by extensive siltation and contamination in the sediment. Of 28 sites in the watershed that were tested for E. coli bacteria and evaluated for their recreation use attainment status, 26 failed to meet that standard, indicating an impairment of the recreational use at that location.

On a positive note, popular recreational destinations O’Shaugnessy and Griggs reservoirs met designated recreation standards, though they exhibited elevated chlorophyll-a and low dissolved oxygen resulting in algal growth. Residents and businesses can help improve water quality by using phosphorus-free lawn fertilizers; managing pet waste; planting riverside buffers with natural woody or tall grass vegetation to discourage nuisance geese populations and assimilate polluted run-off; and better managing storm water volume to reduce loadings to the reservoirs.

As part of Ohio EPA’s continuous effort to monitor and report on the quality of streams throughout Ohio, Ohio EPA employees collect chemical, physical and biological samples from dozens of sites in each study area. Ohio EPA analyzes information about the abundance and variety of fish and aquatic insects, especially those species sensitive to pollution, and the presence of bacteria, metals and nutrients. The Agency has one of the most advanced water quality monitoring programs in the nation, determining the health of rivers and streams by sampling stream biology and habitat in addition to water chemistry.

The Agency shares this information with local governments, landowners and citizens so they can develop plans to maintain and/or restore waterways impacted by identified sources of pollution. Sources could range from sewage treatment plants, industrial facilities and coal mines to low-head dams and urban and rural runoff. Stakeholders also can use the information to request assistance from Ohio EPA and other funding sources for projects that alleviate water quality problems and protect the resource for drinking water and recreational enjoyment. More information is available online about Ohio EPA’s Total Maximum Daily Load Program.

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The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1972 to consolidate efforts to protect and improve air quality, water quality and waste management in Ohio. In the past 40 years, air pollutants dropped by as much as 90 percent; large rivers meeting standards improved from 21 percent to 89 percent; and hundreds of polluting, open dumps were replaced with engineered landfills and an increased emphasis on waste reduction and recycling. Ohio EPA -- 40 years and moving forward.


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