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Miami alumnus works to save local polluted stream

For The Miami Student

Published: Friday, December 6, 2013

Updated: Friday, December 6, 2013 11:12

Spanning 28.4 miles from its headwaters in Butler County through Hamilton County and downtown Cincinnati into the Ohio River, the Mill Creek is one of the most polluted streams in the United States.

But 200 years of pollution won’t discourage Miami University graduate Bruce Koehler. Koehler is the chair of the Mill Creek Watershed Council of Communities and the “commodore” of the restoration of Mill Creek.

According to Education Director of Groundwater Cincinnati-Mill Creek Lora Alberto, the main cause of the pollution today is Combined Sewage Overflows (CSO). These CSOs, as described by Alberto, consist of polluted storm water as well as untreated industrial waste from sewers. Chemical and industrial companies can legally dump to the sewers, but when storm water runoff overflows these systems all the waste is released into the creek.

But that is not the only source of pollution in the creek. Industries do have accidental spills and are fined for them. The penalty is currently unclear but there are bills on the floor of both the Ohio State House of Representatives and Senate that would make offenses felonies with a minimum penalty of $10,000 fine and three years in prison.

“I think businesses are losing touch with how they affect the environment so it’s nice to see someone taking control of the problem and the fact that he’s a RedHawk makes it that much cooler,” Miami University first-year Adam Olson said.

Koehler, a 1976 graduate with a degree in Urban Studies, said he actually remembers a time when the creek was dirtier than it is now. It was after industrialization but before the Clean Water Act, Koehler said.

“There were sludge banks,” Koehler said. “The sewage had piled up on the bank of the creek and there were piles of garbage bubbling. It was really like something out of a horror film.”

But Koehler and his organization are taking action. They are seeking grants for floodplain wetlands, which act as natural water filters, organizing volunteer events such as clean ups and invasive species removal as well as heading the Mill Creek Yacht Club, Koehler said.

The Mill Creek Yacht Club is the name given to the educational canoe and kayak outings on the creek. So far, there have been 98 voyages with a total of 568 people participating, and there will be a celebration for the 100th voyage when it is scheduled.

The Mill Creek Watershed Council works closely with Groundwater Cincinnati- Mill Creek. Groundwater Cincinnati- Mill Creek is a non-profit organization with five staff and hundreds of volunteers. They are currently working to restore a few specific locations near Cincinnati.

Alberto explained that it is a very long process. She said she never expects the creek to be pristine because of its location in an urban area, but she said it is an “environmental justice” to clean it up.

“Mill Creek is posing a challenge to us,” Koehler said. “It is a 28-mile test of local character and civic pride.”

For those wanting to help, there are many ways to become involved. Koehler suggested students volunteer with the clean ups, invasive species removal and steam monitoring.

For those wishing to fully immerse themselves into the project, Koehler suggested students volunteer at the water quality monitoring lab or intern for the Watershed Council. He also recommended students check out the social media and website for the Mill Creek Watershed Council of Communities.

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