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Great Lakes Article:

Cuyahoga River closer to removal from most-polluted list
AP, Marion Star (OH)
Published October 9th, 2004

CLEVELAND (AP) -- Years of cleanup efforts have moved the Cuyahoga River closer to what was once an unthinkable goal: removal from an international list of the most-polluted sites on the Great Lakes.

"Twenty-five years ago, I would never have dreamt it would look as good as it does, or that people would rent $2,500 apartments to have views of it," said Mark Moloney, an environmental engineer with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Cleveland office. "That would have been unthinkable in 1975."

The Cuyahoga is perhaps best known nationally as the river that caught on fire when an oil slick burned in 1969. But a number of changes have occurred along the heavily polluted, industrial and urban portion of the river.

Discharges from municipal wastewater plants and industrial plants have been cleaned up, causing a rebirth in the variety and number of fish and bugs. An Ohio EPA study four years ago found 62 species of fish in the river where there were none nearly 30 years earlier.

Several river areas between Akron and Cleveland -- once the most-polluted portion of the Cuyahoga -- have met some or all of the goals set by the federal Clean Water Act.

Area environmental planners acknowledge, though, that a complete cleanup of the river is at least 20 years away.

"There's no reason why it shouldn't be our goal," said Jim White, executive director of the Cuyahoga River Remedial Action Plan. "Everything we do should be aimed at restoring the river and put it into a level of recovery."

Since 1988, the Cuyahoga and 10 miles of Cleveland's shoreline on Lake Erie have been one of 43 sites on the Great Lakes designated by the United States and Canada as areas of concern because of major pollution.

Three other Ohio waterways are on the list: the Maumee River in Toledo, the Ashtabula River in Ashtabula and the Black River in Lorain County.

Under an international agreement between Canada and the United States, the governments set 14 good traits that a body of water must meet before it can be removed as an "area of concern."

The criteria the Cuyahoga does meet include no restrictions on drinking water, no bird and animal deformities and reproduction problems and no restrictions on agricultural use of water.

But the river fails to meet 10 goals. Among them, it has a significant loss of fish and wildlife habitat because of dredging and development, and there are restrictions on fish consumption.

Long-term problems that need resolved are eliminating the combined sewage and rainwater discharges into the river. The city of Akron and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District are planning to spend more than $1.3 billion to correct the discharge problem, but that will take at least 20 years.

The biggest pollution problems facing the Cuyahoga are chemicals, oils and other debris that wash off parking lots, yards and roads during rainstorms.

"There are issues out there that will be with us a long time that are difficult and complicated to solve," said Tom Denbow, Cuyahoga River Remedial Action Plan chairman. "But even a partial delisting will be a victory."

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