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The Ottawa River

Ottawa River Habitat Restoration Inventory
The Ottawa River is a tributary of North Maumee Bay at the western end of Lake Erie. While most of the watershed is in Fulton and Lucas Counties, Ohio, both headwater streams and the mouth of the Ottawa River are in Monroe County, Michigan. The Ottawa River is formed in Sylvania Ohio where its two main branches, Tenmile Creek and North Tenmile Creek, join together.

The Ottawa River’s water quality has been severely impaired over the years from many sources. Through the Maumee RAP governmental agencies, businesses, and the public have worked to improve its water quality, The Ottawa River’s highest-profile environmental issue is stream sediment contaminated by PCBs, PAHs, and metals. Under other projects, the Maumee RAP, TMACOG, and many stakeholders are developing solutions to contaminated sediments. The lower portion of the Ottawa River, in Toledo and Washington Township, is a low-gradient stream with historical marshy areas along its banks. Under certain weather conditions called the seiche, Lake Erie water can flow six or seven miles upstream into the river. Parts of lower river have been channelized or relocated over the years. Many of the former wetlands along the river have been filled. TMACOG has worked with the University of Toledo to develop a Wetland Inventory for Lucas County.

Beyond removal of pollutants, the ecological restoration of the Ottawa River will depend on restoration of environmental habitat and riparian wetlands. The first step is to identify areas along the river that have good habitat restoration potential. With funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, TMACOG is commissioning a study to help answer this question.

Mannik-Smith Group and the Project Management Team have completed a preliminary survey identifying ten Areas of Interest along the river which may have restoration potential as wetlands or riparian habitat. These ten areas have been evaluated, with approval of property owners, and four sites were selected for more detailed study. Conceptual habitat restoration plans have been developed for these sites. To download the full project report, please click on this link: Ottawa River Habitat Restoration Inventory – final report March 2008

Recent Improvements to Habitat

1. Dam Removal and Remediation at Toledo Botanical Garden
TMACOG’s Maumee River Coordinator Matt Horvat is working with the Toledo Botanical Garden on a project to address dams and silted-in ponds in the park. Horvat is the contract coordinator for the project.

About 30 years ago, two ponds were created by building concrete low head dams to impound water flowing through Hill Ditch. However, the ponds formed behind the dams began to fill with silt. “It’s not a self-sustaining water system,” says Horvat. “By taking out the dams, we can restore a natural flow of water.” Executive Director of the Toledo Botanical Garden Karen Ranney Wolkins said, “The ecosystem is just not healthy. The water quality is poor, the vegetation and fish life are not healthy. We see a big benefit to improving the pond areas.”

The initial design plans will allow one pond to revert to a wetland environment and rehab the other as a healthier body of water. Hill Ditch, which is a tributary of the Ottawa River, will be restored to flow more naturally. The rehabilitation will give the park a new space to showcase native, water-loving plants, and also create access to the water for visitors.

The project is currently in the design and engineering phase. Dam removal and construction will start in the fall of 2012. The plan is to do the earthmoving work during the winter months to minimize disruption during the growing season. When construction is complete, there will be a big volunteer effort to install the selected plants and other features. “We envision a native area, but with deliberate planting, not highly manicured,” said Ranney Wolkins. “It will be a great demonstrative opportunity.”

The Toledo Botanical Gardens project is funded by a 319 grant from the Ohio EPA. The design and engineering firm is Davey Resource Group .

A section of the rehabbed pond showing stepping stones (foreground)

Celebrating the completion of the construction with a ceremonial toss of grass seed.

2. Dam Removal Aids Habitat

On the Ottawa River, just off Secor Road in the Village of Ottawa Hills, a 15’ tall concrete dam prevented movement of fish and other aquatic life and posed a safety risk. When first built, the dam was intended to create a pond in the river’s floodplain. That pond never really developed and the dam served no useful function. Its size also made the river dangerous and the area was fenced to reduce access.

In 2009 the dam was knocked down in an agreement with the Ohio Department of Transportation and the entire site was made safer and more accessible. TMACOG Environmental Planner and Maumee River Coordinator Matt Horvat worked with the team that designed and implemented important changes. Stream banks that were deeply eroded were stabilized with plants and single stone placement. The adjacent floodplain area was also planted with native trees and shrubs. Stones were also placed to provide cover and resting areas for fish and to make stepping stones across the river, and provide places to sit near the water’s edge. Now the site is an attractive place that invites recreation and allows fish to move freely. The design should also allow the river and floodplain to manage seasonal floods better than when the dam was in place.


3. Ottawa River Restoration Expanded
A series of incremental projects have improved portions of the Ottawa River where it flows through the main campus of the University of Toledo. Now work has started on a new project that will address the entire 3,700-foot length of the river from where it meets the campus near the Law School at Secor Road, to the south of Savage Hall where it exits.

The newest work on the river will address the streambed and water’s edge areas. Several strategies will be used to provide a diversity of habitat to fish and other aquatic organisms.

  • Locked logs are trees that are placed in the river with root end of the tree locked into the bank to hold the trunks in place and keep the bank stable.
  • Lunkers are open wooden frames that mimic undercut banks. The structures will prevent erosion or bank collapse while providing shade and habit for fish and other aquatic organisms.
  • Bendway weirs are stones that are strategically placed at the edge of streams to direct water flow and reduce erosion. They also can be stepping stones, allowing people closer access to the water.
  • Hydraulic cover stones will be in the river itself. They break up current and provide resting space for fish.

Restoration of the river is part of the University of Toledo’s master plan. Dr. Patrick Lawrence, UT professor in the department of Geography and Planning, is the administrator of the project which is funded through the Ohio EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. TMACOG’s Maumee River Coordinator Matt Horvat will be a project manager. Horvat says, “It’s a lot of work to do and we have only three weeks to do it. The site is very tight with utilities, high voltage wires, and sewer and steam lines running through it.” He noted that with a river that has been highly channelized and which runs through a fully developed campus, the options for remediation are limited. They cannot change the footprint of the river but will improve the habitat within the waterway. There will also be some work on the streambanks including stepping stones and planting of native species.

Removal of a dam on the Ottawa River at Ottawa Hills has made it possible for fish to travel more freely on the river. Fishermen have reported catching a wide range of fish include bass, pike, and even steelhead in the Ottawa River on campus.

Workers stand on exposed LUNKERS (Little Underwater Neighborhood Keepers
Encompassing Rheotactic Salmonids). The lunkers are 8-foot sections, with openings
at the sides and the front. Water can flow all the way through. They mimic an
undercut bank and provide shade and habitat. Workers are tying the lunkers into the
bank with large stones and smaller gravel. Then they will be topped with soil and
large flat stones.

Nearly complete. Lunkers are in place, topped with flat stones that can be walked
on. The stream bank will be re-planted with native shrubs and trees. A rustic
staircase of stones will lead from the parking lot to the river’s edge.


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For questions or more information, contact
Kurt Erichsen, P.E.
Vice President of Environmental Planning
419-241-9155 extension 126


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