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Ohio EPA Finds Exceptional Biology, More Sensitive Species In Deer Creek Watershed; Reports Excellent Study Results in Madison, Pickaway, Fayette and Ross Counties

Ohio EPA biologists found exceptional communities of fish and aquatic insects and excellent habitat on the Deer Creek mainstem and 19 tributaries in Madison, Pickaway, Fayette and Ross counties in 2011, according to a new biological and water quality study. The survey included the 67-mile-long Deer Creek, Bradford Creek and Oak, Sugar and Hay Runs, and three inland lakes (Madison Lake, Choctaw Lake and Deer Creek Reservoir). The 412-square-mile watershed flows into the Scioto River north of Chillicothe in Ross County.

Deer Creek is home to state designated threatened, special interest and endangered fish species including tippecanoe darters, river redhorse and shortnose gar.  Bluebreast darters were present in an additional 15 miles of Deer Creek, compared to the results from a similar 2007 Ohio EPA survey. The expanded range of this pollution-sensitive fish species is an indicator of water quality improvements in the watershed.

Ohio EPA found the biology to be good at most of the sites studied and exceptional to very good at 19 sites in the watershed. Free-flowing reaches of Deer Creek generally had good habitat that supported well-balanced aquatic communities. Of the 51 sites where the biology was assessed, 39 sites (76 percent) were fully meeting the designated or recommended life use goals for fish and macroinvertebrates (aquatic insects and mussels). Another nine sites (18 percent) were partially attaining those goals.

Areas of Walnut and Glade Runs had excellent macroinvertebrate communities with each yielding 15 sensitive types of the aquatic insects. Pollution-intolerant macroinvertebrates were given an exceptional rating downstream of Madison Lake, since up to 25 types were found there.

Deer Creek from the Sugar Creek confluence to Deer Creek Reservoir is listed as a Superior High Quality Water and the reach from below the dam to the mouth is classified as an Outstanding State Water. This classification is based on determining exceptional ecological values, including high quality habitat that can support declining and threatened fish species.

Where sites were not meeting their designated aquatic life uses, Ohio EPA determined that impairment was associated with dams and impoundments; excessive sediment; elevated nutrients; and organic enrichment from agricultural activities, reservoir releases and home sewage treatment systems (HSTS). The recreation use was assessed at 37 sites within the watershed by sampling for E. coli bacteria. All but one site around the Deer Creek dam failed to meet the E. coli standard limits, indicating the recreation use was not supported. Sources of the impairment included agriculture and HSTS.

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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Editor’s Note:  A high-resolution photo of an Ohio EPA biologist with a state-endangered shortnose gar from Deer Creek is available here.

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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