We've been hard on rivers in Northeast Ohio. We've dammed them, channelized them, and polluted them. But one river has survived in amazingly good shapethe Grand.
Protected by its distance from major urban areas, the swampiness of its upper watershed and the steepness of its magnificent gorge in Lake County, the Grand River watershed is home to the greatest biological diversity in the region. Its free-flowing, clean water permits the survival of exceptional communities of fish and other aquatic organisms. And its forested floodplains and wetlands shelter more than 60 rare plants.
The Grand's unusually pristine quality has earned a "Wild and Scenic" designation from the state. (The only other wild river in Ohio is Little Beaver Creek in Columbiana County.) The wild portion of the Grandthe rugged portion in the gorge with the best preserved forest corridorextends about 23 miles from the Harpersfield covered bridge near SR 534 to the Norfolk and Southern railroad bridge just south of Painesville. The scenic portion, which winds through the flat bed of an ancient glacial lake, extends about 33 miles from US 322 to the Harpersfield bridge.
The most recent report was "pleasantly boring," says Ohio EPA's Steve Tuckerman. Helping to maintain the river's water quality is the well-operated Painesville wastewater treatment plant, he adds.
Two recent pollution concerns facing the river are a proposed expansion of the Chardon wastewater treatment plant and the closed Diamond Shamrock hazardous waste lagoons near Painesville.
Increased discharge from the wastewater plant could degrade Big Creek, a major tributary of the Grand. And there is concern that the old waste lagoons are leaking dissolved solids, chromium and other pollutants.
Probably the biggest long-term threat to the river is suburban sprawl spreading over Lake, Geauga and western Ashtabula counties. Fortunately, a number of organizations are working to protect the river's corridor.
Lake Metroparks has protected over 3,500 acres along the Grand and its tributaries and has developed a larger open space plan. A recent federal transportation grant will allow the Metroparks to protect another 1,000 acres of forested hillsidesthe impressive "viewshed" from I-90 bridgesthrough purchases of land and scenic easements. Meanwhile, the Geauga Park District protects about 1,095 acres of land along the Big Creek and Swine Creek tributaries and seeks to purchase additional properties along vital headwater streams.
The Grand River is also home to a good example of watershed-wide cooperationa coalition of public agencies, private organizations, businesses and individuals known as the Grand River Partners. The partnership has created a land trust and raised funds to purchase easements so land along the river remains undeveloped. It also has hired a river protection planner to help educate landowners about river protection and provide incentives for cleaning up private dumps near the river. Another goal is to reach out to farmers, loggers and developers with information about minimizing erosion.
The Grand River has generally excellent water quality and aquatic communities, but here are some environmental threats that Ohio EPA is watching: