Upgraded status sought for once-dead Cuyahoga River

Cleveland (AP)

State environmental officials and a regional clean water group
have asked that large portions of the once-dead but still-symbolic
Cuyahoga River be removed from an international list of polluted
Great Lakes areas because the water quality has greatly
improved.

A 1969 fire on the river in Cleveland that involved floating oil
and debris helped spur the environmental movement and widespread
reforms, including the federal Clean Water Act.

If the request by the Ohio EPA and the Cuyahoga River Remedial
Action Plan to “delist” parts of the river is approved, it would be
the first official change in status since 1985, when the river was
named one of 43 polluted areas on the Great Lakes.

Kelvin Rogers of the Ohio EPA said the agency was hopeful the
federal Environmental Protection Agency would approve the
request.

Two spots in Canada and one in New York have been delisted; one
spot in Canada and one in Pennsylvania are in recovery.

The proposed delisting covers 40 miles of the Cuyahoga River
between Akron and Cleveland, but does not include the 5.6-mile
Shipping Channel through the Flats area of Cleveland.

Environmentalists are observing 2009 as “The Year of the River.”
They hope the middle portion of the Cuyahoga is certified as
meeting federal clean water standards by June 22, the 40th
anniversary of the fire.

“That’s our goal, and we think it’s going to happen,” said Jim
White, executive director of the Cuyahoga River Community Planning
Organization. “The numbers are there to show that the fish have
returned.”

An EPA survey of the river last summer found 40 fish species
between Akron and Cleveland, including steelhead trout, northern
pike and other fish that can live only in clean water.

“The fish are healthier because the aquatic bugs are healthier,
and that means our river is healthier,” White said. “We have little
doubt that this impairment can come off the list.”

Several impairments, or problems, are cited on the International
Joint Commission’s list. The Ohio groups want the U.S. EPA to
remove certain impairments, including those for degraded fish and
aquatic insect populations, the loss of fish habitats and fish
deformities.

They also asked the agency to rescind three additional
impairments: tainted fish-wildlife flavors, degradation of wildlife
populations and animal-bird deformities/reproductive problems.

Rogers said there is no evidence those problems exist along the
Cuyahoga River.

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