Stark News Details
Our Water Webs: Our Region's Water Lifeline - Part 3Posted Jan. 7, 2011
About Our Water Webs: Our Region's Water Lifeline
Mariana Silva is a senior magazine journalism major at Kent State University at Stark. These articles were featured on the CoolCleveland.com blog.
Part 3: Getting Everyone Connected
With the mission of restoring and maintaining one watershed’s quality, the Nimishillen Creek Watershed Partners have brought together residents, businesses, schools, colleges and public officials with a common purpose.
“Watershed groups are important because the problems of a stream are reflective of everything that takes place in its basin,” said Eric Akin, watershed coordinator for the Upper Tuscarawas River Watershed. “If you want to make changes to the water quality, you need to understand as much about the watershed as possible and that takes a collaborative effort.”
The Nimishillen Creek Watershed Partners was started in 2001 by the Northeast Ohio Four County Regional Planning and Development Organization, or NEFCO, after it received a grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to develop a watershed action plan for the basin. “The start of the group wasn’t too difficult,” Akin said. “NEFCO had done some preliminary work in the watershed through biological monitoring and mapping. We got a group of stakeholders together at the first meeting to see who was interested and many of them were because of the numerous problems, big and small, in the watershed.”
Akin said the group was initially brought together to assist the watershed coordinator as an informal advisory group. After that, the group evolved and established its own by-laws. It’s still a volunteer group with no membership dues, open to anyone who shares the same goals. Funding for projects comes from grants and donations. Akin said the group then tried to recruit groups, such as industries, businesses, residents, schools and universities that were not represented in the first meeting.
“We have had made some progress in getting these groups involved,” Akin said. At the group’s regular meetings, the stakeholders hear about problems and discuss how to solve them. The partners also plan events, including the “litter elimination, awareness and prevention,” or LEAP, clean-ups every September.
Some of the core committee members represent the state Environmental Protection Agency, county health department and parks department, businesses and a large farm operation. Although the group is independent, a large share of the partners’ support comes from NEFCO.
The Nimishillen Creek watershed drains 188 square miles in Stark, Summit and Tuscarawas counties in Northeast Ohio, covering Canton, North Canton and Louisville. Its main channel is 25 miles long and flows into Sandy Creek, which then flows into the Tuscarawas River.
“Every watershed is different, so there are no cookie-cutter ways to produce a plan,” Akin said. “What worked in a neighboring watershed might not work for Nimishillen Creek. You need to understand these issues and having a diverse, knowledgeable watershed group is vital.” After examining the area in 2003, 2004 and 2005, the Environmental Protection Agency announced in December that the waters of the Nimishillen Creek watershed were “severely impaired.”
“The fact that Nimishillen Creek has impaired water quality is a surprise to no one that has been exposed to the stream,” Akin said. “It has been impacted starting with the first settlers ditching the stream to improve drainage through the industrial boom in Canton. Now it is seeing the impacts from urban sprawl in many of the township areas.”
The EPA report said state and local partners, as well as voluntary landowners, would be responsible for taking action to restore the watershed.
“There are many people with knowledge of Nimishillen Creek and you need to tap into that if you want to understand what has happened, why it happened, what are you obstacles to fix the problems, and who should lead various improvements,” Akin said.
The group had its first meeting at Kent State at Stark in fall of 2009, after Robert Hamilton, a biology professor conducting watershed research at Quail Hollow State Park, contacted Penny Bernstein, coordinator of the Herbert W. Hoover Initiative at the campus, and told her about the watershed partners.
Bernstein said she saw an opportunity in the involvement with the watershed partners and then offered the group a place where they could meet and discuss their projects in the community. “This was a chance to get a formal relationship going,” Bernstein said. “That was also a way for us to find out what all of these partners were doing and begin to work with them to see how faculty and students at our campus could be more helpful to the partners.”
Bernstein said it was through this relationship that Kent State at Stark and the watershed partners started to learn how they could help each other.
One of the ways the Watershed Partners have helped the university is by allowing professors to meet with experts in the field, who serve as sources for students involved with watershed projects.
“The interaction of the professors and students provides new perspective to some of the work we are doing,” Akin said. “Also, we are always looking for volunteers for our events, and the university has been helpful in letting students know about our efforts.”
For more about watershed groups in your city go the Ohio Watershed Network at www.ohiowatersheds.osu.edu.