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Water: Total Maximum Daily Loads (303d)

Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) at Work: Ohio

Letting the Middle Cuyahoga River Run

TMDL Implementation Restores Flow, Improves Water Quality, and Preserves a Community's Sense of History

TMDLs at Work
What is a total maximum daily load (TMDL)?

It is a study or analysis that calculates the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards. The TMDL establishes a pollutant budget and then allocates portions of the overall budget to the pollutant's sources. For more information on TMDLs, visit EPA's Impaired Waters and Total Maximum Daily Loads Web site.

TMDL at a Glance:
Factors causing impairmentWarmwater aquatic life use impaired by low dissolved   oxygen resulting from three key factors: (1) excess   nutrients; (2) changes in the natural flow pattern of   the river; and (3) poor riverine habitat
Sources contributing to impairment Municipal wastewater treatment plant discharges,   dams, flow alteration
Restoration options Reduce pollutant loadings from local wastewater   treatment plants or increase flows from a surface impoundment and modify dams to increase natural   river characteristics
Stakeholder involvement Middle Cuyahoga Watershed Stakeholder Forum;   Kent Dam Advisory Council; local nongovernmental   organizations; local cities and counties; state and   federal agencies
Status of waterbody Full attainment of Warmwater Habitat designated use   near the Kent Dam and anticipated full attainment   near the Munroe Falls Dam
Benefits to stakeholders Water quality, economic, historic preservation,   recreation, funding, partnerships
Approved TMDL document Middle Cuyahoga River TMDL (approved January 2001)

Printable Versions

"Sound byte" Version of Story (PDF) (2pp, 238K, about PDF)


"Technical" Version of Story (PDF) (5pp, 331K, about PDF)


The total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) for the Middle Cuyahoga River watershed revealed that residents in the watershed had a tough choice to make if they wanted to improve local water quality conditions. They could either (1) invest in expensive upgrades to the local wastewater treatment plants to reduce the pollutants affecting dissolved oxygen levels, even though the investment might not produce sufficient water quality improvements to meet water quality standards, or (2) spend time and effort in crafting a voluntary approach involving modification and removal of local dams that would improve the river’s natural flow, restore riverine habitat, allow for fish passage, and increase dissolved oxygen (DO) levels. Wanting to avoid costly upgrades that might not produce results, stakeholders in the Middle Cuyahoga River watershed chose to cooperatively explore the innovative voluntary option in a manner that could restore water quality, preserve local history, and create a significant water feature. The result was the modification of the Kent Dam and the removal of the Munroe Falls dam Implementation of this voluntary option produced immediate, measurable water quality benefits. In addition to achieving environmental goals, the TMDL implementation approach allowed stakeholders to leverage financial resources and avoid costly wastewater treatment plant upgrades and associated operation and maintenance costs. Efforts in the Middle Cuyahoga River watershed also established important partnerships that would benefit future TMDL efforts in other parts of the Cuyahoga River watershed.

How are TMDLs at work in the Middle Cuyahoga River watershed?

The TMDLs developed by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the Middle Cuyahoga River watershed presented two possible options for decreasing excessive nutrients and improving dissolved oxygen levels to restore the biological integrity of the watershed. The TMDL report demonstrated that while local wastewater treatment plants in the watershed are contributors to water quality problems, solely focusing on more stringent permit limits for these point sources would not result in attainment of water quality standards due to the conditions in the watershed. Through the technical analysis, stakeholders were provided with evidence to support the need for voluntary watershed efforts.

Upon approval of the TMDL for the Middle Cuyahoga River in 2000, local stakeholders initiated efforts to evaluate the recommendations put forth in the TMDL report and develop a locally-led implementation strategy. Based on the costs associated with wastewater treatment plant upgrades and the uncertainty over whether the investment would produce environmental results, stakeholders opted to pursue the recommended dam modification activities under the Level 1 scenario in the TMDL.

By choosing to implement the TMDL through the voluntary dam modification and removal projects, local stakeholders were eligible for grant funding that would not have been available to finance wastewater treatment plant upgrades under the second alternative.

What is the current status of the Middle Cuyahoga River watershed as a result of the TMDL process?

The Middle Cuyahoga River watershed is not yet in full attainment of water quality standards; however, the voluntary dam modification and removal projects have resulted in the anticipated chemical and physical water quality improvements, as indicated by water samples and computer modeling. DO levels in the river are now consistent with the state's water quality standards for this parameter. Also, the condition of the warmwater aquatic live community in the stream also significantly improved. Prior to the project, Ohio EPA assessed the diversity of the macroinvertebrate community (ICI), the fish community using the Index of Biological Integrity (IBI) and Modified Index of Well Being (MIwb), and the physical habitat conditions using the Qualitative Habitat Evaluation Index (QHEI). Scores from the initial assessment using the ICI, IBI, MIwb, and the QHEI indicated that the majority of the Middle Cuyahoga River did not meet the warmwater habitat designated use prior to implementing the TMDL. The Ohio EPA assessed the Middle Cuyahoga River from 2005 to 2007. Information from this assessment indicated a 56 percent increase in IBI scores and a 57 percent increase in QHEI scores in Kent. The river in the former Munroe Falls dam pool meets the QHEI and ICI criteria, but still has a non attainment status for the fish indices. However, all the elements required for a full recovery of aquatic communities to warmwater habitat standard were present, and the river is expected to reach full attainment within the next few years. A full report of the demonstrated improvement of the aquatic community is available.


How did local stakeholders benefit from the TMDL process?

The Middle Cuyahoga River Restoration Project produced the anticipated water quality improvements, has restored portions of the river to full attainment, and is on its way to meeting its warmwater habitat designated use in all segments. In addition to water quality benefits, this successful TMDL implementation project has provided the cities of Kent and Munroe Falls, as well as other local stakeholders, with a wide range of additional benefits, including:

  • Leveraged financial resources. Local stakeholders, specifically communities with wastewater treatment plants that would have required costly upgrades, were able to avoid significant investments that were not guaranteed to result in attainment of water quality standards. For example, the City of Kent alone avoided spending nearly $5 million in wastewater treatment plant upgrades. Communities were able to work together, along with state and federal agencies, to obtain funding for dam modification and removal projects. The Kent Dam Water Quality Improvement Project received more than $5 million in funding from state and local partners. Ohio EPA's Clean Water Act State Revolving Loan Fund's Water Resource Restoration Sponsor Program (WRRSP) provided $3.94 million. The Clean Ohio Fund contributed $636,000. Ohio EPA provided $500,000 through a Clean Water Act (CWA) section 319 grant and ODNR provided $6,400 in additional grant funds. For the Munroe Falls dam project, Summit County obtained more than $1.4 million from Ohio EPA's Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund's WRRSP. In addition, this project obtained approximately $1 million in a CWA section 319 nonpoint source grant and $500,000 from supplemental environmental project enforcement monies.
  • Historical preservation. The project preserved and restored the arched dam structure dating back to the 1830s, but provided for a free-flowing river channel through removal of an old canal lock east of the dam.
  • Increased aesthetics and educational opportunities. Developing Heritage Park in the drained dam pool to satisfy National Historic Preservation Act requirements alsoaddressed concerns related to aesthetics. Interpretative signage in Heritage Park educates visitors about the history of the area and associated environmental benefits of the project.
  • Effective local partnerships. The Middle Cuyahoga River Watershed Stakeholder Forum and the Kent Dam Advisory Council set the stage for successful partnerships necessary to address other water quality problems throughout the Cuyahoga River watershed. Some of the participants in the Middle Cuyahoga River TMDL process also participated in the TMDL processes for the Upper and Lower Cuyahoga River.

For more information on the Middle Cuyahoga River TMDL, contact: Trinka Mount (trinka.mount@epa.state.oh.us), Ohio EPA, Division of Surface Water; telephone:(614) 644-2140.

For more information on the Ohio TMDL Program, visit Division of Surface Water TMDL Information.

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