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Efforts of watershed partners improve water quality in Raccoon Creek

Austin Stahl and Amy Mackey October 1, 2012

Thanks to water quality restoration projects being led by the Raccoon Creek Coordinator, an effort supported in part by the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, the stream health of the Raccoon Creek Watershed is improving.

Once mostly a dead stream, you can now catch fish in it.

Just ask Steve Johnson, a retired Jackson county resident who grew up on the banks of the Little Raccoon. According to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), the Little Raccoon was one of the most polluted streams and had some of the lowest numbers of fish species in the entire watershed.

"I recall the words of my father, an avid hunter, fisherman and an original conservationist, when he said, 'We'll never catch fish in that creek,'" Johnson said. "If only he could see these photos."

The photos he refers to are pictures of the large bass he caught with his daughter in August, fish that were nearly non-existent in the Little Raccoon in the 1980s.

Biological data on fish and macroinvertebrates in Raccoon Creek are collected by the ODNR Division of Mineral Resources Management, Raccoon Creek Partnership, Ohio EPA Division of Surface Water, Ohio University, and ODNR Division of Wildlife. The Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) is used to score the type, quantity, and amount of fish found on a scale ranging from 12-60.

The total number of species in the Little Raccoon Watershed has increased to 41, up from just 13 in the 1980s. Additionally, the percentage of tolerant species, an important indicator of stream health, has dropped from 92 to 43 in the same period of time. Tolerant species are macroinvertebrates and fish that can withstand poor water quality, so a drop in numbers indicates cleaner water.

The percentage of moderately sensitive species (unable to survive in dirty water) subsequently went up, darters reappeared, and the number of bass increased. Only one fish species was found in the Little Raccoon in the 1980s, and its IBI score was 12, the lowest possible score. In 2011, 18 fish species were recorded.

"I remember when the water was dead," Johnson said. "I recall the strong sulfur smell that oozed from the mud when we played and swam in the creek. The efforts to restore the creek are nothing less than miraculous."

In 2011, 14 completed projects in Raccoon Creek monitored 117 miles of stream, 103 of which met the pH target of 6.5. 5,414 pounds of acid were kept out of the stream each day and 42 miles of stream meet or partially meet criteria for the EPA's warm water habitat standards. Costs for the projects were just under $10 million.

The cleanup efforts were made possible from funding through the Abandoned Mine Land programs, ODNR Division of Mineral Resources Management, Ohio EPA, Office of Surface Mining, the Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs at Ohio University, the support of local communities in the watershed, and leadership provided by the Raccoon Creek Partnership.

Despite considerable progress, much work remains to be done in Raccoon Creek and the surrounding watersheds. 

Raccoon Creek recovery article Oct 2012