In late September volunteers joined the Little Miami River Kleeners and spent three hours removing 50 tires from just five miles of the 108-mile length of the Little Miami River.
After seven years of cleanups and the removal of 5 tons of trash from the Greene County section, you might think that no trash or tires would be left!
But there always seems to be more help needed for the river we love. As more visible trash is removed, the invisible pollutants take on a larger role in damaging the water quality, the scenic beauty and the recreational potential of the river.
Research indicates that when 10 percent of a watershed area is covered in hard (sometimes called impervious) surfaces like parking lots, roads and rooftops, water quality begins to deteriorate. Many areas in the upper Little Miami Watershed are over 25 percent impervious. This is a big threat to the Little Miami River because it causes water to run off driveways and parking lots at great speed and carry all sorts of pollutants with it. Fertilizers, grass clippings, oils, and medicines wash directly into the river without being treated.
The things we can’t see floating in its waters are sometimes more harmful than those we can. The beautiful Little Miami River doesn’t need more sediment on its bottom. Its fish don’t need medicines. The mussels that keep it clean don’t need to be dislodged by rushing waters. Its recreational users don’t need to be playing in water polluted by chemicals from unknown sources in unknown concentrations. Its banks don’t need to cut into more property or lose more trees.
In the spring, when the river most forcefully tells us of the damage we are doing to it, the fast, high muddy waters speak of lost top soil and trees, streams racing through culverts to join the mayhem of the raging river and changes in the watershed that prevent the natural path of water roaring downstream. Hard surfaces mean more untreated water enters storm drains after rains. Culverts cause the water to run faster into the Little Miami and its tributaries, where it cuts away banks and prevents the recharging of ground water wells and the aquifer.
In fall, when the river is shallow, it is again trying to tell us that it is hurting. Loss of trees means the water their roots once held no longer is available to slowly seep into the streams. This time of year, we can see large trees falling into rivers and streams as the banks are cut away beneath them.
If the river could talk, it would remind us that water runs downhill so our actions in a stream’s drainage area will affect the water of the stream, the river, and the ocean it flows into. It would tell us that much has been done to improve its water quality, but more needs to happen to accelerate these advances.
The river would remind us that we drink its water, canoe in its riffles, and enjoy the wildlife it supports. The river would encourage us to think of our actions so the waters will still be running clean and pure for our grandchildren to enjoy.
It will take effort on our part, but we can do little things that collectively will mean a lot to the river’s health.
First, we should make sure only water goes down the storm drains, not detergents or oil from cleaning our cars, not fertilizers or grass clippings from caring for our lawns, or water from cleaning the driveway. Storm drains are like underground rivers piped directly from their culverts into the streams.
We can slow down the runoff from our properties and reduce pollutants getting to the river by covering bare spots, using rain gardens, and leaving native plants and trees in a buffer zone along the water’s edge. We can dispose of our medicines properly and not put them down the toilet and we can make sure our septic tanks are working correctly so we don’t poison its fish or ourselves.
We can organize groups to attach stickers to storm drains in our neighborhood to remind people to keep trash out of them. We can volunteer to clean the tributaries, the river and their banks in June, and we can invite a speaker to tell us more at a club meeting.
Just as a little drop of rain joins others to become the spring flood, our little actions can make a big difference in the health of the river. The ripple effect of what you do can inspire your neighbors and community to ensure that the water is healthy and will provide us pleasure for years to come.
The Little Miami River was Ohio’s first river to become a state and national scenic river. In 2018-19, we will celebrate the 50th anniversary of this feat. It was accomplished with a great deal of effort. You can continue to improve this area asset by keeping it looking great above and below its surface. Please join our efforts to protect the river we love. Become a partner of the Little Miami Watershed Network. The Little Miami River needs you! Contact us a www.mylittlemiami.org.
Sprinv Valley resident Hope Taft is co-founder and co-chair of the Little Miami River Kleeners and Little Miami Watershed Network.