Ohio EPA Report Shows Ashtabula River Substantially Improved

Water quality in the Ashtabula River and its tributaries has significantly improved since the water body was last tested in 2002, according to a new Ohio EPA report.

Samples taken in 2011 show biological communities in the Ashtabula River main stem are very good to exceptional in quality. About 88 percent of the free-flowing part of the watershed fully attained the Federal Clean Water Act’s biological indicator goals. The numbers and types of fish and bugs identified are used to calculate stream health.

The watershed is considered a high-quality resource that supports exceptional macroinvertebrate communities and the northern brook lamprey, a state endangered fish. It also supports declining and intolerant fish and bug species, including the bigeye chub, mimic shiner, and two species of mayfly.

Areas that still need attention are the Fields Brook and Strong Brook tributaries. Several new habitat enhancements have been constructed or proposed in the Ashtabula River shipping channel that should bring about additional improvements to fish communities. While macroinvertebrate communities are performing below expectations, they have shown improvement in the shipping channel. Ohio EPA is working with U.S. EPA to examine whether a reduction in sediment toxicity explains the improved conditions.

Stream channel restoration activities and the removal of PCB-contaminated sediments and high concentrations of PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) prior to 2003, and again in 2012 and 2013, are directly related to water quality improvements including those documented in this study. To prevent any new contamination of PCB oils from the Clean Harbors facility to Strong Brook, which feeds into Jack’s Marine and the Ashtabula River,

Clean Harbors is required to treat any storm water generated at the facility before it is discharged to storm sewers that empty into the Ashtabula River.

E. coli sampling for 22 of 27 sampling locations reveals a recreational use impairment at the sampled locations. Elevated bacteria levels are due to a variety of sources, and are pervasive in the areas where E. coli was detected. Ohio EPA will use the information revealed in this sampling to develop a TMDL (Total Maximum Daily Load) plan that will begin to address the impairment areas.

The Ashtabula River is in Ashtabula County, located in the northeast corner of Ohio. Tributaries converge in Monroe Township forming the main stem which flows through Ashtabula City where the mouth empties into Lake Erie. The river is 40 miles in length and drains 137 square miles. Its tributaries include Fields Brook, Strong Brook, Hubbard Run, Ashtabula Creek, Ashtabula River West Branch, and Ashtabula River East Branch.

Ohio EPA has one of the most advanced water quality monitoring programs in the nation and is required by the federal Clean Water Act to identify waters that do not meet water quality standards and develop methods to bring the affected waters into compliance through the TMDL program. Using water quality information from the river study, a maximum amount of pollutants a water body can receive without violating water quality standards is calculated. The TMDL program can be used to improve the quality of a stream by taking a comprehensive look at all pollution sources. The information gathered also helps guide the Agency’s issuance of discharge permits and implementation of local storm water programs.

To view the study, visit epa.ohio.gov/dsw/document_index/psdindx.aspx.


The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1972 to consolidate efforts to protect and improve air quality, water quality and waste management in Ohio. Since then, air pollutants dropped by as much as 90 percent; large rivers meeting standards improved from 21 percent to 89 percent; and hundreds of polluting, open dumps were replaced with engineered landfills and an increased emphasis on waste reduction and recycling.

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