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Cuyahoga River Cleaners Worry Trump May Dam Up the Works

The freighter M/V Buffalo cruises toward Lake Erie while (L to R) Jane Goodman, Mike Foley, Tom Bullock, Peter Whiting, and Matt Gray discuss the Cuyahoga River [Mark Urycki / ideastream]

On the anniversary of the day the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969, environmental officials gathered on its banks to urge further support.   They worry that President Trump’s budget cut of 31% for the EPA would roll back decades of gains cleaning up the river.

At a gathering in the Flats, it didn’t take long for Tim Bullock of the National Wildlife Federation to explain the importance of the river. A 650 ft lake freighter did it for him by blowing its horn.

“Welcome everyone here today, we have commercial traffic doing quite well today.”  

Also passing by: pleasure boaters, rowers, and kayakers.  River expert Dr. Peter Whiting of Case Western Reserve University says the river’s cleanup wasn’t just government.

“But, having the government involved in supporting lots of efforts and doing coordinating and providing research to scientists, engineers, organizations is critical to making additional progress.”   

And Jane Goodman of Cuyahoga River Restoration says locals do a lot of work but federal dollars make it go.

“If the money isn’t there, the people can’t be there. If the people aren’t there the work doesn’t get done, and the work is not complete.”

Rowers head up river shortly before the freighter M/V Buffalo comes down.  The Italian-made boats on the left collect debris ranging from plastic bottles to trees. They are owned by the Port of Cleveland and staffed by workers from the Downtown Cleveland Alliance.  [Mark Urycki / ideastream]

Whiting says point-source pollution from factories has been cut but new challenges are more spread out – the non-point source contaminant.

“It’s the runoff from individual yards; it’s the runoff from agricultural lands; it’s the combined sewer overflows; it’s the salt off of roads, and then we have layered on top of it a really big and global scaled problem which is climate change.”

Global warming, he explains, produces heavier rainstorms and more problematic run-off.  Cleveland temperatures are two degrees higher, on average, since 1969.   The city has seen a 15% increase in annual precipitation and a 30% increase in heavy downpours since then.