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Current activities for clean water

Interested in water issues? Then you have a lot of options for getting involved. There are many organizations, agencies, and projects working to improve water resources in Northeast Ohio. The activities range from small beach cleanups to multi-billion dollar construction programs to reduce sewer overflows.

Below is a brief guide to the major efforts—organized by Lake Erie programs, river restoration, stormwater, combined sewer overflows, and actions by local governments. There’s a good chance one of them could use your help!

Grassroots energy<br />Local watershed groups organize many cleanup projects throughout the year, such as this one at Edgewater Beach by Drink Local. Drink Tap., a group that highlights the plastic waste problems from bottled water. (Photo: algae returns<br />Algal blooms were thought to be part of Lake Erie's polluted past, but a huge outbreak of the green scum covering much of the western and central basins of the lake in October 2011 was an indication that over-enrichment of nutrients from runoff is still a problem.  (NASA satellite image)Reforesting the watershed<br />Girl Scouts and other volunteers planted shrubs and trees to restore a riparian buffer along Stickney Creek, a tributary of Big Creek in Brooklyn, OH. The project was sponsored by the Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization. (Photo: CRCPO)Sewers overflowing<br />During heavy rains the sewers overflow into Doan Brook in Cleveland's Rockefeller Park, creating a torrent of disgusting sewage. Projects are planned to dramatically reduce such overflows in the coming years. Capturing rainwater<br />Rain gardens, like this one at Cleveland's Zone Recreation Center, are becoming popular ways to capture rainwater from parking lots and other impervious surfaces, while beautifying a site.Invasive species<br />The Asian carp, shown jumping in the Illinois River, could be the next exotic invader to disrupt the Great Lakes ecosystem. (AP Photo/Illinois River Biological Station via the Detroit free Press, Nerissa Michaels)Legacy problem<br />In the coming years, construction projects to control combined sewer overflows will be the region's biggest and costliest water pollution efforts.


Nutrient loadings
Ohio Lake Erie Phosphorus Task Force — A top priority for the lake is reducing the phosphorus runoff that is causing the reappearance of algae blooms and dead zones in the lake. The task force is expected to issue a final report with recommendations in Spring 2013.

Water diversions
Great Lakes Compact — The Compact protects Great Lakes water from diversions out of the basin, but help is needed to strengthen implementation rules in Ohio.

Invasive species
Great Lakes Panel on Aquatic Nuisance Species — From zebra mussels to purple loosestrife, aquatic nuisance species have wrecked havoc on the Great Lakes ecosystem. The latest invasive threat is the asian carp, and action is needed to prevent the fish from entering the Great Lakes from the Mississippi basin.

Funding for restoration
Great Lakes Restoration Initiative — It’s the largest federal investment in a generation to restore the Great Lakes, but continued advocacy is needed to persuade Congress to fund the program fully.

Cleaning up pollution hot spots
U.S. and Canadian water quality planners have singled out four places in the Ohio Lake Erie basin for intensive efforts to cleanup a legacy of industrial pollution. These “areas of concern"  are:

Presque Isle Bay, another area of concern on Lake Erie, was declared cleaned up in February 2013. 

Reducing impacts of sprawl
Ohio Balanced Growth Program — The development of the land in the watershed is one of the biggest threats to the health of Lake Erie, so the Ohio Lake Erie Commission developed the Balanced Growth Program to encourage communities to take water quality into account when planning for growth. Citizens can help make sure that development occurs in the most suitable locations. (This relates to our Vibrant cities and towns sustainability agenda.)

Air toxics
Some of the most worrisome water pollution comes from the air, especially some of the persistent toxic substances, such as mercury or chemicals that mimic hormones. Environmental regulators need support to discover and eliminate the sources. (This relates to our Clean air sustainability agenda.)

Clean beaches
There are lots of opportunities for citizens and organizations to help keep Lake Erie beaches clean and monitor conditions:

Stopping plastic wastes
Plastic wastes are accumulating in our oceans and lakes, polluting the water and killing wildlife. Local programs are educating the public about the issues:

(This relates to our Zero waste sustainability agenda.)

Boater education
Clean boater and clean marina programs — Promotion of best practices by the boating community keeps waterways clean and creates ambassadors for water stewardship.

Comprehensive planning
Citizens can help shape the long-term planning for the health of the lake by getting involved in the Lake Erie Lakewide Management Plan, a binational effort that sets ecosystem goals and restoration strategies.


Most of the major streams in Northeast Ohio have some sort of organization working to protect them. These organizations educate the public about the stream, sponsor volunteer events, organize restoration projects and water quality monitoring, advocate for better local practices and regulations to protect streams, help to develop watershed plans, and undertake a variety of other activities. They usually have a small paid staff or no staff, so volunteers are often needed.

In addition to links to the groups, we list some of the key studies that identify a stream's water quality problems and plans for restoration—Watershed Action Plans and the more quantitative Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) plans, which determine how much various pollutants need to be reduced for a stream to meet water quality standards. These plans have a wealth of background information and are a good starting point for anyone who wants to understand the environmental challenges of a particular stream. In addition, some streams have Balanced Growth plans, which attempt to designate priority conservation and development areas in a watershed.

Ashtabula River
Remedial Action Plan

Big Creek
Friends of Big Creek
Balanced Growth Plan

Black River
Remedial Action Plan
Watershed Action Plan

Chagrin River
Chagrin River Watershed Partners
Watershed Action Plan
Balanced Growth Plan

Chippewa Creek
Chippewa Creek Watershed Planning Partnership
Balanced Growth Plan

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River Community Planning Organization
Friends of the Crooked River
Remedial Action Plan

Doan Brook
Doan Brook Watershed Partnership
Watershed Action Plan

Euclid Creek
Friends of Euclid Creek
Euclid Creek Watershed Program
Watershed Action Plan

Grand River

Mill Creek (Cuyahoga County)
Mill Creek Watershed Partnership
Watershed Action Plan

Rocky River
Rocky River Watershed Council
Watershed Action Plan
Upper West Branch Balanced Growth Plan

Tinkers Creek
Tinkers Creek Watershed Partners
Watershed Action Plan

Vermilion River

West Creek
West Creek Conservancy
Watershed Action Plan


The runoff of rainwater from the land—which contributes to erosion, flooding, and water quality problems—is increasingly seen as one of the most serious water issues. The solution requires retrofitting and redesigning the landscape to reduce the amount of impervious surface and restore the land’s natural capacity to store and filter water.

Everyone can help with this. There are guides about changes to make at home, and public agencies, such as Soil and Water Conservation Districts, offer information and advice. In addition, it’s important to support the development of local stormwater districts, such as the new one launched in January 2013 by the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. These districts will generate the resources for a professional approach to tackling stormwater problems at the watershed scale.

Finally, a new center for learning about innovative stormwater practices, the West Creek Watershed Stewardship Center, will soon be opened by Cleveland Metroparks.



In older urban areas the sanitary and storm sewers were originally built in one pipe. As a result, they overflow during heavy rains, spilling raw sewage in our lakes and streams and fouling our beaches. This is called a combined sewer overflow (CSO). Ohio has over 1,200 CSO locations in 81 communities (see map).

Now the U.S. EPA had ordered local sewer districts to fix their CSOs. Cleaning up this legacy of water pollution will require some of the costliest costliest infrastructure projects in the region’s history, such as the $3 billion program of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

Given the stakes, these projects merit strong citizen involvement. It will be important to support the intent of the projects against those who do not want to make the investment in clean water. But it also will be important to make sure that the money is spent effectively—and that as much as possible is spent on “green infrastructure,” the wetlands, rain gardens, pervious pavements and other techniques that keep rainwater out of the sewers while beautifying our communities.

Here are some of the major CSO projects in the region:


Your local government plays a big role in maintaining water quality—sweeping streets, regulating construction sites, controlling planning and development near streams, and many other functions—and it’s important for citizens to make sure the job is well done.

Is your community doing all it can to protect vital water resources? Here are ideas for best practices that most communities should adopt:



In addition to the groups mentioned above, here are organizations that involve citizens to work for clean water:

We hope that this summary provides a useful introduction for anyone trying to understand who is working on water issues in Northeast Ohio. You can help us keep this page current and complete by sending your comments.

Updated 1/30/15

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