"Though people lack not wealth, they cannot afford to breathe clean air. Rain and streams cleanse not, but remain inert and powerless liquids. Human beings and countless beings that inhabit water and land reel under the yoke of physical pain caused by malevolent diseases. Their minds are dulled with sloth, stupor, and ignorance. The joys of the body and spirit are far, far away. We needlessly pollute the fair bosom of our mother earth; rip out her trees to feed our shortsighted greed, turning our fertile earth into sterile desert. As a noble being recognizes the kindness of a sentient mother and makes recompense for it, so the earth, the universal mother, which nurtures all equally, should be regarded with affection and care. Forsake wastage, pollute not the clean, clear nature of the four elements and destroy the well being of people, but absorb yourself in actions that are beneficial to all. Being attentive to the nature of interdependence of all creatures, both animate and inanimate,one should never slacken in one's efforts to persevere and conserve nature's energy."
Bhikshu Tenzin Gyatso
The XIVth Dalai Lama

Compassion for our planet's environment can be argued to be an instinctual genetic human trait, as well as an obviously beneficial learned phenomenon. Historic examples of proactive Earth stewardship by indigenous peoples of the world are globally ubiquitous. These stewardship activities of the indigene led to increased resources and protection of these resources for the future.

Most of us presently in the "developed" world are not nutritionally dependent on our local freshwater ecosystems for our survival; however, the fish, clams, mussels, waterfowl, and plants of the wetlands were the grocery store of the past. Both this historic value and the intrinsic and inherent value of the natural world behoove us to steward, protect, and respect our freshwater ecosystems to ensure their survival for the future generations. The integrity of the natural world, which is our surroundings, also is connected to our mental health and stress level, and the health of our wild and natural areas is in this way intricately related to our happiness as a society, thus reducing crime and depression. And even more importantly, the health of our freshwater ecosystems and the drinking water, which comes from these systems, is directly linked to the length and quality of our lives and physiological health.

For these reasons many efforts are underway in central Ohio to monitor the health of our freshwater ecosystems, and this article provides a brief history of water quality issues in central Ohio and how we as citizens with or without biological backgrounds can become involved in volunteer efforts to save the health and natural beauty of our rivers and streams.

In the 1950's and 1960's, major chemical spills and unabashed polluting decimated many of our rivers and streams, some beyond repair. Fish kills, channelization of natural river beds, the building of dams, loss of riparian habitat, oversiltation from development and agriculture, poor water quality due to runoff from impermeable surfaces (parking lots and roads), raw sewage and industrial and agricultural pollution all have significant damaging impacts on our freshwater ecosystems. Although the populations of many species have been able to survive these torments, many have also become threatened, endangered or entirely extirpated from the waters of Ohio. On the Olentangy, this has led to the endangered status of the Spotted Darter, the possible extirpation of the Sand Darter, and thethreatened status of the bluegrass darter, just to name a few of the troubled species. Deformities, eroded fins, lesions, and tumors are now common in many fish populations in Ohio. Other deformities such as pugnose anomaly and twisted spine anomaly are also affecting fish all across Ohio. Some introduced species have also dominated ecological niches competing with native species, thus providing an additional stress on ecosystem health.

The Olentangy River as a prime example of how a river can be affected by human alteration of the environment. Known as one of the best small mouth bass rivers of the eastern U.S. in the 1940's, the Olentangy was significantly damaged by the installation of the Delaware dam and other earthworks projects. A Columbus ammonia spill in the 1960's severely debilitated the health of the Olentangy and a chemical spill in the early 1970's near Delaware was said to have killed every fish for a two mile stretch of the river (ODNR fish kill records). Today the Olentangy is threatened by rampant development in northern Columbus and the resultant siltation and additional effluents and sewage overflows that this development has created. South of Lane Avenue the Olentangy index of biotic integrity (IBI) is unnaturally low from altered habitat and effluents. Several factories used to permanently change the color of the river through the lower Olentangy for a long ways below their effluents, coating the entire substrate with a putrid orange slime. Also the artificial water flow regime regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers at the Delaware Dam may be damaging to the life cycles of some fish and lead to high water temperatures and very low flow levels during periods of drought. This combined with increased development and resultant increased effluents, combine with the low flow and potentially endanger the water quality during drought periods.

Regardless of all these troubles, the Olentangy has remarkable ability to withstand our environmental carelessness. Many species intolerant to pollution hang on, even though many are in threatened or endangered status. Ohio EPA has much of the Olentangy River between Delaware and Worthington rated in its highest category of water quality, called exceptional warmwater habitat (EWH). However even some of these designated scenic parts of the river, have failed to meet this standard in recent surveys. The EPA states that specific reasons for this are unclear at this time.

In central Ohio, there are many important efforts underway to monitor our freshwater ecosystems, involving government, university, and grassroots citizen volunteer efforts. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency Surface Water Division (OEPA-SWD), The Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (ODNR-DNAP), Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed (FLOW), and the Ohio State University (OSU) all have been involved in effective freshwater ecosystem monitoring in central Ohio.

The Surface Water Division of the Ohio EPA is in the forefront for the world for monitoring of freshwater ecosystems. Detailed fish and macroinvertabrate population surveys and detailed water monitoring stations take place in the streams and rivers all over Ohio. The SWD has set a precedent nationally and globally of using the resultant biological data in a court of law to prosecute and fine polluters and demand changes and upgrades in technology to curtail negative effects. Charles Boucher of OEPA-SWD, now leads this important effort in Ohio, which was started long ago by a talented and determined group of biologists in Ohio to counteract the significant decline in health of our rivers and streams. Only Britain shares a comparable detailed monitoring system of freshwater ecosystems.

Ohio State University has several monitoring efforts underway. The Olentangy River Wetlands Research Park monitors water quality, and Dr. Ted Cavender and Mark Kibbey of the Museum of Biological Diversity, 1315 Kinnear Road, have a monitoring database of macroinvertabrates for the Olentangy River in the OSU area. The fact the Olentangy flows through OSU offers a good source for study of aquatic and wetlands ecosystems. Staff at OSU report that over the years much diversity has been lost due to the chlorinated wastewater treatment plant in Delaware and the resulting high effluents. Also the channelization of the river through OSU campus and in the building of the route 315 highway destroyed valuable riparian habitat. On a recent monitoring effort, I joined the staff and students of OSU to monitor the combined sewer outfall at the Third Avenue Bridge on the Olentangy. Below the outfall, fish diversity was puacitous, with only one saugeye found that had several tumors and blackspot parasites. Above the sewer outfall, a diverse habitat was encountered including green-sided, banded, and johnny darters, and a black redhorse sucker fish. Dr. Ted Cavender elaborated that an experienced individual can generate very valuable data from simple monitoring efforts involving only a few individuals, but also pointed out that even with standardization of this data, it still is not relevant in a court of law.

The Ohio Scenic Rivers Program Stream Quality Monitoring Project has spearheaded a citizen volunteer effort to monitor the scenic rivers all over Ohio. Started in 1983, the Stream Quality Monitoring Project uses aquatic macroinvertebrate monitoring to compile biological and water quality on the state's scenic rivers and streams. They have trained thousands of volunteers to undertake these efforts. Many local youth and conservation organizations, families and individuals take part. From these efforts, significant impacts and/or pronounced changes in the health of these ecosystems is successfully monitored. Michael Lee and Tim Peterkoski of the ODNR-DNAP lead excellent training sessions for volunteers to become involved in this project and dates are listed at the end of this article.

Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed is another organization that undertakes similar monitoring efforts. This is a non-governmental grassroots environmental education organization dedicated to improving the quality of the river, tributaries, and terrestrial ravine habitat of the lower end of the Olentangy River. Bob Frey leads the stream quality monitoring efforts of FLOW with the volunteer group named Hellgrammites. They have assembled an excellent database to track the health of macroinvertebates and also undertake biological and chemical water quality sampling. FLOW also trains volunteers to help with these efforts and a date is listed also at the end of this article.

As spoken so eloquently by the honorable Dalai Lama, our future survival on this planet as well as the integrity of our natural world throughout our life are both dependent upon out taking action to protect our natural world. "Cleaning of the house", "tending of the garden"; these are both metaphorical responsibilities we all have that must be expanded to the include the realm of the environmental health of our planet.

With this article I make a solemn plea to all of you. For the future of our children, the future of all Earth's creatures, and the future quality of our rivers and streams, I humbly ask for all people of Columbus to embrace environmental compassion and help one or all of these volunteer efforts to help care for our wounded, ailing, and neglected Mother Earth.


Columbus Metroparks
Stream Quality Monitoring Orientations Become a Stream Quality monitoring volunteer for the Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves and receive training to monitor a state scenic river. Be prepared to wade. For more information, see www.ohiodnr.com/dnap or call 614.265.6422
Battelle Darby Creek, Meet at Indian Ridge Bulletin Board
--July 16 Wednesday 6-8 PM
--July 24 Thursday 6-8 PM

Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed (FLOW) Stream Water Quality Monitoring training session.
For more info contact Call Erin Miller at 614-267-3386 or flow@myexcel.com or see their website at www.olentangywatershed.org.
Whetstone Park, meet at Park of Roses shelter house
--July 19 Saturday 9 AM