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The Ottawa River

Ottawa River – Regional Success Story

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The natural history of the Ottawa River reflects the industrial history of northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. As industry geared up in the1900s, the rivers were used as big sinks for chemicals and wastewater. As we became more aware of the dangers of chemicals in the waterways, laws were passed to regulated industry and point source discharges. The Clean Water Act of 1972 led to enormous strides in the prevention of pollution. However, the sediment of the Ottawa River remained contaminated with heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCBs). These chemicals are dangerous to all living things from fish, to salamanders, to people. In the 1990s, the Ottawa River was judged to be one of the most contaminated waterways that drained into the Great Lakes. Many partners in our region joined forces to find ways to address this issue.

Extensive testing was done in the streambed of the river. In the worst places near the industrial center of Toledo, special mats were installed to hold sediment in place and some smaller areas were remediated. We still had long stretches of polluted sediment. Starting in late 2009, a large-scale dredging operation funded by the Great Lakes Legacy Act removed approximately 235,000 cubic yards from Sibley Creek and the Ottawa River. Sediment that was highly contaminated went to a secure hazardous waste facility. Less dangerous sediment was taken to a regional landfill where it was de-watered and the leachate treated.

Since 2010 tests show that the water quality is much improved. Warning signs that told people to avoid contact with the water were removed, fish advisories were lessened. Now that industrial pollution is regulated and remediation has removed the worst of the legacy pollution, work can continue to prevent new pollution and improve habitat.

See reports below for details of work on the Ottawa River.

Ottawa River Remediation
The Ottawa River, a Maumee Bay tributary at Toledo Ohio, is severely impacted by contaminated sediments. High concentrations of PCBs and metals in the lower river pose unacceptable risks to human and ecological health. Contaminated sediments, especially in the Ottawa River, were a primary reason for designating the Maumee River as an Area of Concern. Remediating the Ottawa River and its sediments is one of the Maumee RAP's top priorities.

Over the past fifteen years several dozen stakeholders have invested tens of millions of dollars to restore the river. TMACOG, the City of Toledo, the Maumee RAP, US EPA, Ohio EPA, and many other stakeholders are developing a sediment remediation program for the Ottawa River intended for funding through the Great Lakes Legacy Act. A number of steps are required to develop a sediment remediation project. Briefly, past work has included assessment of the river, led by Ohio EPA in its MAOC Project, and control of sources of contaminants.


Cleaning up the Ottawa River: a Recent History | Kurt Erichsen, TMACOG

Ottawa River Habitat Restoration Inventory | Kurt Erichsen, TMACOG

Since 2000 TMACOG has coordinated a series of studies with a Project Management Team of stakeholders to assess the river sediment quality better, and set remediation priorities. These studies are available, below. TMACOG is requesting qualifications/proposals for the next step. The scope and RFQ-P are also available for downloading, below.

Ottawa River Sediment Investigation Report: Stickney Avenue Depositional Zone (2007)
In 2007 the team of Hull and Associates and Limno-Tech completed an investigation study of the Ottawa River immediately downstream of Stickney Avenue. As this river widens out and flows slow down, sediment has a tendency to settle in this area. Hence, it is referred to as the Stickney Avenue Depositional Zone, or SADZ. The area studied covers river miles 4.2 to 4.9. he project goals were to:

·         To collect bathymetric and topographic elevation data to support hydrodynamic modeling of the SADZ, for purposes of valuating bed stability.

·         To collect data on soft sediment thickness in the SADZ to support evaluation of sediment removal as a remedial alternative.

·         To collect supplemental sediment quality data to better define the nature, extent, and distribution of chemical impacts to sediments in the SADZ.

Ottawa River: Stickney Avenue Depositional Zone large download (80 MB)

Ottawa River Priorities Report (2004)
This document identifies and prioritizes hotspots of contaminated sediments in the Ottawa River and recommends “Remedial Target Areas.” The report identifies five RTAs between Stickney Avenue (River Mile 4.9) and Lagrange Street (River Mile 6.5) as top priorities. These RTAs have been submitted to US EPA for potential “Legacy Act” remediation. This report was prepared by Hull & Associates and Blasland, Bouck, and Lee, Inc. (BBL).

Ottawa River Priorities Report — the main report
Ottawa River Priorities Report Tables — all the tables
Ottawa River Priorities Report Figures — all the figures large download 

Ottawa River Risk Assessments (2001)
Ottawa_River_Risk_Assessment — the entire document

This document evaluates the risks for human and ecological health due to contamination in the Ottawa River. It includes:
Synthesis Memo, Limno-Tech, Inc..
Screening-Level Human Health Risk Assessment for the Lower Ottawa River, Ohio Intertox, Inc.
Ecological Screening-Level Risk Assessment of the Lower Ottawa River, Parametrix 

Ottawa River Sediment Data (1999)
Apparent Soft-Sediment Distribution near “Unnamed Tributary,” upstream of  Stickney Ave Deposition Zone investigation Area. Hull & Associates, 1999.

Whole Sediment Toxicity Studies for Ottawa River and other Maumee (1998)
River Area of Concern Streams
Whole Sediment Toxicity: Hyalella azteca and Lumbriculus variegatus, Ohio EPA/GLNPO 1998

Whole Sediment Toxicity: Hyalella azteca, Ohio EPA 1995


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For questions or more information, contact
Kari Gerwin,
Director of Water Quality Planning

ext. 1103

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