Studies of Lower Muskingum planned

Some residents who live along Olive Green, Meigs and Wolf creeks have a special opportunity during the next few weeks to help find out what’s in the water of the Lower Muskingum River.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency employees, armed with photo identification, will be sent out to test the waters in those areas. Sometimes, they might need to visit someone’s property to get access to the creeks.

The good news, said Erin Strouse, Ohio EPA spokeswoman, is the Muskingum River itself is the healthiest it has been in more than 30 years in terms of the living things it can support.

“When it comes to aquatic standards, it was like 21 percent,” she said. “Today, we are looking at closer to 98 percent statewide. In the 1980s, the Muskingum River was at 53 percent. We are achieving 100 percent now.”

Aquatic standards refers to the kinds of life the water can support.

Richard Hornbeck, 68, of Belpre, owns Hornbeck’s Bait & Tackle in Porterfield. He said many of his customers travel up the Muskingum River to fish.

“I assume a lot of them go up the tributaries,” he said. “I’ve driven up there and across the tributaries. Sometimes, I’ll look down and say, ‘Man, that looks like good bass water.'”

These days, illness keeps him out of the boat and on dry land, but he hears all kinds of fish tales from his customers catching saugeye, white bass, walleye, small mouth bass and catfish.

The Ohio EPA is getting about $325,000 to do the monitoring and assessment at a planned 104 sites, primarily in southeast and south central Ohio during field years 2013, 2014 and 2015. The final report is expected in 2016

“We are sampling these tributaries because they are clustered together,” Strouse said. “The resource water is the same here for the best streams and river in the state. We want to verify the tributaries are as great as we think they are.”

Developers along the Muskingum River would see advantages maintaining that high score and give some thought to any management of land they might own along the river, said Marilyn Ortt, of Friends of the Lower Muskingum.

“It’s an asset as long as it’s a healthy river,” Ortt said. “It brings lots of visitors to the area.”

By determining the health of the rivers and streams through sampling aquatic biology in addition to water chemistry, that information can be used to show long-term trends in the quality of the water-resource, according to the Ohio EPA.

Employees will collect water and sediment chemistry samples, survey aquatic communities (what organisms can be found there) and look at stream habitat.

Jesse Daubert, 26, of Marietta, is watershed coordinator with the local Friends of the Lower Muskingum River Inc. group. He is writing a watershed action plan for the Lower Muskingum River.

In the action plan that’s taken more than two years, his goal is to identify issues with water quality and develop a plan to remediate any issues.

Daubert said most of the tributaries are labeled as warm water habitats. Staffers collected bug and fish chemistry samples and other data. Before they are monitored by the TMDL program, the Ohio EPA sends its recommendations to the federal EPA as part of the Clean Water Act. Although not official, Daubert has found features indicating Cat Creek and Big Run could be exceptional, he said.

The TMDL program is the maximum amount of a pollutant a body of water can take while meeting water quality standards.

“I want to work to try to solve that issue and pursue different water remedies,” Daubert said. “I also want to work with homeowners who are unknowingly or knowingly causing problems. I don’t know if we want to regulate the issues. We just want to correct them.”