Limits on Cuyahoga diversion supported

By Diane Smith Record-Courier staff writer Published:

About 100 people attended the first of Herington's hearings on House Bill 665, held at Theodore Roosevelt High School in Kent.

Of those, 35 urged Herington to vote for the bill, sponsored by State Reps. Kevin Coughlin of Cuyahoga Falls and Ann Womer Benjamin, of Aurora, which is aimed at making Akron's proposed water diversion subject to the permit process outlined in state law.

Residents from Kent, Streetsboro, Nelson, Garrettsville, Silver Lake, Cuyahoga Falls and Green expressed concern about the aesthetics of the river and the health of aquatic life, noting those are reasons the bill deserves to become law.

Akron has proposed taking up to 5 million gallons of water daily from Lake Rockwell in Franklin Township and Streetsboro, located in the Lake Erie basin. The water would be used to serve residents from Springfield, Copley and Coventry townships, located in the Ohio River basin, as part of a JEDD agreement.

State law now requires a permit from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources when water is diverted from the Lake Erie or Ohio River basins without return.

However, Akron's diversion is not subject to the permit process because water would be returned through one of Akron's wastewater plants along the Cuyahoga River and through releases from the Portage Lakes.

The bill would eliminate the words "without return," subjecting every diversion to the permit process whether water is returned or not. It was recently approved by a large margin in the Ohio House of Representatives and referred to the Ohio Senate, where it is in committee.

Because Herington's district includes residents of Akron and the JEDD areas, as well as Kent and the "middle Cuyahoga" who fear the diversion could harm their part of the river, he sponsored the hearings. The second will be held 7 tonight at North High School in Coventry Township.

Kent Law Director James Silver said the proposal consists of two diversions. First, the water would be diverted from the Lake Erie basin to the Ohio River basin to serve the JEDD areas. Then water from the Portage Lakes would be diverted through the canal system into the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie.

"It looks like a duck, it walks like a duck, it's a duck," Silver said. "We have two diversions, not one. However, the city of Akron and the ODNR say two ducks equals no ducks."

The result, he said, is that the 12 to 15 mile stretch of the "middle Cuyahoga" between Lake Rockwell and the Akron wastewater plant would lose water, harming the species that live in and around the waterway.

"We do agree with the ODNR and the city of Akron on one point _ two ducks equals no ducks on this particular part of the river," he said.

Several residents expressed concern about the environmental impact the diversion would have on the region, and said if the diversion would have no impact, Akron should have no problem undergoing the environmental study included in the permit process.

Don Rowinsky of Garrettsville said the upper Cuyahoga is clean, but near Cleveland, the oxygen level is dramatically lower. He said the water Akron takes from the river for its water supply, and the wastewater it releases from its Botzum wastewater plant contribute to the degradation.

"If the state doesn't act soon, they're going to have to change all the maps in Ohio so the Cuyahoga River starts in Burton, ends at Lake Rockwell and then at the Botzum sewer plant, the Cuyahoga ditch starts and goes all the way to Cleveland," he said.

Mayor Sally Henzel of Streetsboro said the amount of water Akron takes from the lake depletes the water table in the city's rural areas, causing some sections to be dry in times of drought and impacting fire protection in some areas.

Mayor John Fender of Kent said the water diversion would cause stagnation in the part of the river that flows through the city's Riveredge Park. It would also have a negative impact on redevelopment of properties in the city's Triangle area along the river.

Tom Myers of Kent said when he and other members of the Kent Environmental Council began pulling trash from the river and planted the first shrubs along the river banks, it was hoped it would stimulate better water quality in the river.

"We didn't spend all that time and money to create sewer edge park," he said.

Cathy Ricks, a naturalist with the city of Kent, said several children have written her letters telling her how much they enjoy the waterfall and the river.

"Are we going to have to take our children down there with no waterfall?" she asked.

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