Cuyahoga County is entirely within the Lake Erie Basin which means that all rivers, streams, headwaters, ground water, and storm water drains into Lake Erie.
This complex network of open water features—lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams—have not only shaped the landscape of Cuyahoga County but provide a diverse living system for terrestrial and aquatic life. Water features supply most of this region’s population with water and provide many “ecosystem services”—benefits that improve human health, economy, and experience. Water Feature Corridors are the riparian zones alongside rivers, streams, and wetlands that should separate the water features from the surrounding landscape. Protecting these water features and corridors is not only extremely important to the rich geographical history and biologic integrity of the Lake Erie Basin ecosystem, but also for human health and prosperity throughout the region.
Cuyahoga County is served by four major water features – the three major river valleys of the Rocky, Cuyahoga and Chagrin Rivers, and the lakeshore of Lake Erie. Tributaries to these rivers typically reach from upland headwaters, down through a variety of dense urban land uses, and ultimately to Lake Erie. The harmful algal blooms (HABs) found in recent years in various areas of Lake Erie are testament to the connection between upland land uses and the health of Lake Erie.
Importance and Value
- Rivers and streams in their natural state reduce flooding by dissipating sudden influxes of water from large storm events and snow melt. They also provide diverse habitat for aquatic and terrestrial life and ensure that water quality remains high.
- Unaltered or daylighted stream corridors have better water quality due to cooler temperatures, better oxygenation, and better ability to capture pollutants and sediments from the surrounding land.
- Unaltered stream corridors with woodland buffers, and intact floodplain and riparian zones are better equipped to handle sediment transport and deposition resulting from erosion.
- Lake Erie, along with the many rivers and tributaries that feed into it, supplies drinking water to 11 million people in the greater region, which includes parts of Canada, and roughly three million Ohioans. Protecting and enhancing Lake Erie and the rivers and streams that flow into it will provide better and safer drinking water that has fewer pollutants resulting from agricultural, industrial, residential, and commercial runoff.
- Lake Erie is known for its yellow perch and walleye. The Rocky River is known for its trout fishing. However, unsafe contaminant levels in fish limit consumption of this affordable food supply. Better protection of Lake Erie and its river corridors will reduce the amount of hazardous chemicals from agriculture, industry, and residential areas that can accumulate in the food web.
- Each year more than 7 million people visit Ohio’s portion of the Lake Erie basin for recreational purposes. However, poor water quality can limit recreational opportunities
- The tourism industry along Lake Erie provides 123,000 jobs and $3.7 billion in wages annually. Tourism, travel, and sport fishing contribute more than $14 billion a year in revenue to Ohio’s economy and $1.8 billion in federal, state, and local taxes. Pollution from runoff, point sources, and sewage overflows negatively impact Lake Erie’s tourism industry. Similarly, the Rocky and the Chagrin Rivers are a draw for their natural beauty, high water quality, and fishing opportunities.
- Lake Erie has more consumable fish than all the other Great Lakes combined. Lake Erie’s fishery supports 10,000 jobs per year and adds $1 billion annually to the surrounding local economies. Lake Erie is the Walleye Capital of the World—people come from all over the world to fish these waters.
- Increasingly, residents and businesses are looking to locate in places that provide an aesthetically pleasing, vibrant, and healthy setting. Businesses have found that they are more viable in places that are able to attract and retain both clients and employees, and places that encourage a healthier workforce. A healthy lake and beautiful river corridors with good access and recreation opportunities are critical to the region’s overall attractiveness to residents and businesses alike.
- Given the increasing frequency and severity of weather events due to climate change, water features and their surrounding corridors are even more important in providing ecosystem services that would otherwise cost thousands of dollars to landowners and governments, including flood mitigation and sediment control.
Recommendations for Communities and Landowners
Individuals and communities can assist in the protection of our Great Lake and associated waterways.
- Protect all streams and headwaters by establishing appropriate setbacks for each segment of the stream. Headwaters need larger setbacks to provide adequate protection.
- Adopt and enforce codes that encourage best management practices and low impact development, particularly in riparian areas and floodplains.
- Permit downspout disconnects that allow homeowners to divert storm water runoff from their home to a rain barrel or lawn rather than the storm sewer. Encourage and incentivize storm water retention on property with installation of rain gardens and/or rain barrels. The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District offers a credit for residential stormwater diversion measures.
- Adopt design standards and update building codes to promote Low Impact Development (LID), a site design approach. LID seeks to integrate functional design with pollution prevention measures to compensate for land development impacts on hydrology and water quality.
- Buffer the edges of streams and lakes with plantings, particularly trees.
- Refrain from building in riparian zones. If building is unavoidable, use the latest green infrastructure techniques that enhance infiltration including rain gardens, bioswales, and permeable pavement.
- Landowners can use landscape management techniques such as fertilizers that apply the least amount of chemicals to lawns and gardens, and plants with the ability to hold water and soil in place.
- Ensure that all household hazardous wastes are properly disposed of at waste collection events or taken to the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District.
Resources for More Information
- Cuyahoga County Soil and Water Conservation District – works to conserve land and aquatic resources in a developed environment through stewardship, education, and technical assistance.
- Cuyahoga River Restoration – works to restore and protect the environmental quality of the Cuyahoga River, nearshore Lake Erie, and select Lake Erie tributary watersheds. Visit their website for a number of educational fact sheets and detailed guide books.
- Chagrin River Watershed Partners – The Chagrin River Watershed Partners (CRWP) is a nonprofit organization serving communities and park systems impacted by the Chagrin River, as well as homeowners living in member communities. The CRWP maintains examples of best practice codes and model ordinances.
- The Watershed Book: A citizen’s guide to healthy streams and clean water that provides basic information about the workings of watersheds.
- Woods for Waters: A guide to planting riparian buffers for healthy streams – a publication produced by Cuyahoga ReLeaf®, a program of Cuyahoga River Restoration.
- FEMA Flood Zones – the official public source for flood hazard information produced with support from the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
- Depave is a movement to remove impervious surfaces and restore water absorption capacity. Resources are available through both the national Depave organization and a local program of the Cuyahoga River Restoration called DepaveNEO.
- Ohio Sea Grant Stone Laboratory for various information on Harmful Algal Blooms, and Lake Erie research, outreach and educational program resources.
- Cuyahoga County Climate Change Action Plan – an effort to set targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, implement and track actions to meet targets, and adapt to climate change across Cuyahoga County.