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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

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The water quality of tributary streams to the lower Maumee River and Lake Erie is impaired largely by bacteria from poorly treated sewage from home septic systems and small wastewater treatment plants, according to a report approved recently by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Rural and urban storm water run-off is also cited as a common cause.

Data were collected in 2006 and 2008 from streams feeding the lower Maumee as well as streams between the Maumee and Toussaint rivers that drain to Lake Erie – an area that covers about 282 square miles in Lucas, Wood, and Ottawa counties.

The Clean Water Act requires that waters not meeting quality standards be identified and practices for bringing them into compliance be adopted – a policy called the Total Maximum Daily Load program, which calculates the maximum amount of pollutants a body of water can receive without exceeding EPA quality standards.

A draft of the report, compiled by the Ohio EPA, was available for public review from May 9 to June 11, 2012 and some major industries in the area offered comments on the draft.

For example, the BP-Husky Refinery commented on the section pertaining to Duck and Otter creeks:  “The statement ‘Field crews recorded observations of visible sheens and odors that were believed to be petroleum’ should be supplemented to include the entire sentence….During sample collection field crews recorded observations of visible sheens and odors that were believed to be petroleum in several sampling locations.”

The refinery contended the full sentence “adds clarity” and explains that observed sheens and odors result from the disturbance of the sediments during sampling.

The Ohio EPA agreed to make the change in the final report.

The EPA notes in another response to a comment by the refinery that TMDLs are not developed for Otter Creek because there are on-going efforts to define the contamination in the creek that will, in turn, lead to initiatives to clean and restore the creek.

An engineering firm, Hull and Associates, Inc., challenges a section of the report on behalf of the Pilkington North America facility in Northwood regarding the level of total suspended solids from the company’s permitted discharges.

A sample taken in July 2010 shows a total suspended solids level of 3,610 milligrams per liter but was taken from a branch of Otter Creek upstream from Pilkington property.

The EPA agreed to have no statistical summary of suspended solids in storm water discharge from Pilkington in the final report.

Several remedial actions are suggested in the report:

• Replace failing septic systems and investigate the feasibility of connecting communities with no sewers to existing public sewer systems.

• Install grassy buffers to slow storm water run-off

• Promote decentralized storm water practices to reduce sediment in storm water run-off and improve conditions for storm water to penetrate the ground.

Dina Pierce, a spokesperson for the Ohio EPA, said local organizations play a key role in the remedial efforts because the agency doesn’t have jurisdiction over some privately-owned entities.

She said several governmental and community groups in Northwest Ohio have had projects underway for years to improve water quality, such as Partners for Clean Streams, Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, the Duck and Otter Creek Partnership, and others.

“Some of these groups working in the Maumee basin were among the first to get on board,” Pierce said. “That’s helped a lot.”

Kris Patterson, executive director of Partners for Clean Streams, said more than 1,100 volunteers participated in the organization’s annual Clean Your Streams day in September, removing 18,000 pounds of trash and 230 tires from the Maumee and Ottawa rivers and Swan, Otter, and Toussaint creeks and their watersheds.

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