Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River are much cleaner than they used to be. But experts warn that many smaller tributaries - especially in urban areas - are actually becoming more polluted. Sources include bacteria from sewer overflows, sediment from construction sites, and chemical run-off from lawns, streets and rooftops. In their natural state, ecologists say small streams help purify water and reduce flooding after storms. But most urban streams are anything but natural. The challenge of restoring polluted urban streams is one few communities have attempted, but one such effort is now underway. 90.3 WCPN's Karen Schaefer has this report on restoring the Doan Brook.
Karen Schaefer: Doan Brook rises in two branches above the Shaker Lakes. It flows through Shaker Heights, Cleveland Heights, and University Circle before heading to Lake Erie through Rockefeller Park. Efforts to restore the brook began with a Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District study designing ways to reduce bacterial pollution from sewer overflows. But the stream has many other problems. Victoria Mills is the Doan Brook Watershed Educator at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes.
Victoria Mills: This is the portal to the west of the headwaters. And if you look across the road, you see no stream, you just see a house, because it's culverted from this point east.
Keith Jones: My name is Keith Jones and I am the Interim Director of the new Doan Brook Watershed Partnership. Thereare better ways to do a lot of this kind of work. It's really the underpinning of all of the projects that we're looking at, is how to stop fighting whatt these streams want to do.
KS: Left alone, streams carry away floodwater and filter out pollution through streambank vegetation. But the Doan Brook - like most urban streams - has not been left alone.
KJ: This is Green Lake, also known as the Duck Pond. It was developed back in the 1920's. It's a shallow lake, very ntirent-rich, a lot of weed growth in the simmertime. I think a lot of the people who live in the homes on that lake want a deep, clear-looking lake. It's tied in with their property values and tha's what they like seeing.
Nancy Dietrich: My name is Nancy Dietrich and I'm on city council in Cleveland Heights. And I was our city's liaison to the committee. Our city and Shaker Heights are built-out, mature suburbs. Just our residential areas are packed with houses, packed with driveways, garages, so run-off, both of storm water and of pollutants, can, of course, make their way into the brook. If we went right up here about half a mile from the end of this street, there's a ravine that the brook runs through.
VM: This is one of the most natural sections of the entire watershed. It's called the gorge. The water flows down a very steep section of Northeast Ohio, which is the beginning of the Appalachian Mountains, really. So you have some beautiful topography. There are waterfalls. It's really neat.
KS: From the gorge, Doan Brook passes under University Circle in a mile-long culvert. On the other side is Rockefeller Park, where the sewer district will remove overflow pipes that carry bacteria to Lake Erie. The park is also the site of the brook's most extensive restoration project.
Paul Moore: My name is Paul Moore. I am the Chief Airport Planner at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Most of my duties entail takling care of the details of the environmental permits for the expansion at the airport, which entails, among other things, about $25 million in stream and wetlands restoration projects that are being done to ameliorate the effects of the airport expansion on Abram Creek. The only project in Cuyahoga County that we are doing is a project on Doan Brook in Rockefeller Park. Dorothy among others is very interested in a nature center or a cultural arts center on the lower brook much like the Shaker Lakes Center.
KS: Dorothy Adams is president of the Herrick Road Street Club, a Doan Brook Watershed Partnership stakeholder in the Glennville neighborhood.
Dorothy Adams: There were always complaints about the stench on this end. I have seen the water overflow, I've seen cars almost covered. This end of the brook is mainly populated with the black community. We have to be, we are a stakeholder. However, ownership is a different thing than a stakeholder to me. And I think the ownership is not only what I want the adults to understand, but the children need to understand this.
VM: We're here standing along MLK Boulevard in Rockefeller Park. And here you can see a really good example. Even though the stream has no streambanks, the stream still tries to create itself within this very confined channel. And that's what we'll try and facilitate through the restoration project.
KS: But nothing will restore the final leg of Doan Brook's 8-and-a-half-mile journey to Lake Erie. No one knows just where the brook enters the lake. It flows out to Lake Erie in a culvert buried deep under Dike 14.
PM: Currently there are not a lot of funding opportunities for the restoration of urban creeks. And one of the things that we are hoping with this project is that a successful project of this variety can be used to encourage Ohio EPA to adjust their standards to include urban watersheds in their funding.
KS: Doan Brook is just one of dozens of urban streams surveyed by the sewer district. Many are in much worse condition. But all of the stakeholders in the Doan Brook Watershed Partnership hope their plan will become a model for other stream restoration projects to follow. On the Doan Brook watershed, I'm Karen Schaefer, 90.3 WCPN News.