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Stream quality in Erie County isn't getting better

By TOM JACKSON • Apr 8, 2019 at 7:00 PM

HURON — The water quality of local streams that feed into Lake Erie isn’t getting better.

That suggests it’s time for people who care about water quality to reach out to their friends and relatives and explain why clean water is important, said Breann Hohman, Firelands Coastal Tributaries watershed coordinator.

Hohman spoke at the recent annual chili dinner hosted to honor volunteers who take water samples at three local streams: Mills Creek, Old Woman Creek and Pipe Creek. The dinner, hosted at the Frost Center at Erie MetroPark, also provided the first public release of information about water quality at the three streams.

Report cards are issued every year that award a letter grade for water quality to each stream, based on measurements of phosphorus, nitrogen, turbidity caused by dirt in the water, and other factors. About two dozen volunteers collected water samples at 25 locations in the three watersheds last year, taking samples at eight different times.

The grades for 2018 are Mills Creek, D; Pipe Creek, D+, and Old Woman Creek, C. All of those grades are unchanged from 2017. The Erie Conservation District has an interactive map of the results at the three streams at erieconserves.org/watershed-map.

Although storms can cause water quality to suffer, only one of the eight samples was taken after a storm, Hohman told about 50 people at Thursday’s dinner.

“We don’t want to see C’s and D’s when it hasn’t even rained,” she said. “The grades just don’t seem to be changing all that much. It should be a wake up call to us.”

She asked the volunteers to “reach out to someone who’s not part of the choir” and talk to them about the importance of clean water.

Hohman said a variety of sources put nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen in the water that feed harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie, including farms, industry and septic tanks.

Many people who move to the country and who rely on a septic tank system don’t realize the importance of maintaining them, Hohman said.

If someone is buying a home in the country, help them understand what it means to own a septic tank system, she said.

Hohman pointed out that, as in past years, the results for Old Woman Creek were better than the results for the other two streams. That’s because the creek has a “nice, intact wetlands system” that serves as a natural filter to remove nutrients, she said. That’s why there’s been a discussion about improving wetlands on the Lake Erie shore, she said.

Gov. Mike DeWine has asked the Ohio General Assembly to create a new fund, dubbed the H2 Ohio Fund, that would spend $900 million over 10 years for water quality improvements.

The governor said he wants some of that money to be used to restore wetlands.

The city of Sandusky is drawing up plans in cooperation with the state’s Office of Coastal Management to restore wetlands along Sandusky Bay. Sandusky’s city manager, Eric Wobser, said if state money becomes available for wetlands restoration, Sandusky will apply for it.

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