It was good news for Galion’s Olentangy River in particular, as the first major study in years shows continuous improvement for it and other major Ohio rivers.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) Director Anne Vogel have announced that a comprehensive study of Ohio’s largest rivers shows tremendous improvements in water quality over the past several decades. 

Ohio EPA launched its first-ever comprehensive large rivers study beginning in 2020 to measure changes in water quality since the 1980s and to identify any current issues impacting water health. The study found that water quality has improved tremendously over the years,  with 86 percent of the state’s large rivers in good to excellent condition as compared to just 18 percent in the 1980s.

The report cites investments in agricultural soil conservation measures, improved wastewater infrastructure, and improved wastewater treatment as key reasons for the water quality improvements.

“Water is truly one of Ohio’s greatest assets, and we have an obligation to preserve and protect it,” said Governor DeWine. “The health of Ohio’s rivers reflects years of work and investment by our local communities and by Ohio EPA, and we intend to continue working to ensure that our healthy rivers stay healthy and that that rivers that still need improvement are restored.” 

Ohio’s new operating budget, signed by Governor DeWine last month, allocates $23.3 million per year to expand the H2Ohio initiative, which was launched by Governor DeWine in 2019 to focus on preventing algal blooms caused by agricultural nutrient runoff and to improve water infrastructure. The expansion of H2Ohio will create a river restoration program for large river tributaries, address river salinity, remove dams, and remediate water impacted by acid mine drainage. 

“We are excited to have good news to report about the conditions of our large rivers and streams,” said Director Vogel. “The additional H2Ohio funding will let us step up these efforts toward getting all our large rivers meeting water quality goals.”

The Executive Summary’s Major Findings included:

• The biological condition of Ohio’s large rivers has improved dramatically since surveys were first conducted in the 1980s. Eighty-six percent of the miles surveyed met expectations, and were judged to be in good to excellent condition. For comparison, in the 1980s, only 18 percent of the surveyed miles met expectations. The dramatic reversal is the direct result of investments in improved wastewater infrastructure and treatment, and agricultural soil conservation measures.

• Over-enrichment was identified as the most pervasive stressor impacting water quality, and in some instances, biological condition. The over-enrichment of our large rivers is characterized by excessive levels of phosphorus and nitrogen, and high biological oxygen demand.

• Legacy pollution from coal mining and heavy industry remains detectable in water quality and sediment samples, but causes only modest impact to aquatic life.

• Our large rivers are getting warmer. Water temperatures observed in the Ohio EPA data have increased successively over each decade surveyed. In the 1980s, the average temperature was 20.5⁰ C. The average temperature obtained from the 2020-2021 survey was 23.2⁰ C.

• The Mohican River was the only river to show a significant decline in condition. This decline was due to over-enrichment and sediment. Over-enrichment and warming stream temperatures can both be partially mitigated by improving the physical habitat quality and the riparian buffers of headwaters feeding our large rivers.

The full report can be read here.