Volume 20, Issue 2, 1995
June/July 1995

Cooperation Serves the Maumee RAP Well -- Past, Present and Future

by Sue Thomas

On November 18, 1987, the Maumee River Area of Concern was the setting for the historic signing of the 1987 Protocol that incorporated Remedial Action Plans (RAPs) into the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement. The City of Toledo hosted that pivotal Biennial Meeting, officially kicking off the RAP process. Using the brand-new Maumee River RAP as a case study, the first-ever RAP Forum quickly zeroed in on stakeholder involvement as a fundamental key to success. The theme of virtually every speech was teamwork: all levels of government and the public would work together to achieve water quality goals. Now eight years into the RAP process, a retrospective look at the Maumee RAP provides a compelling case for the value of public involvement and cooperation.

The lower Maumee River was designated an Area of Concern largely because of agricultural sources of sediment and phosphorus. The Maumee drains over 17,000 square kilometers (6,600 square miles) of mostly farmland and contributes the greatest single sediment load to Lake Erie. Urban sources of pollution, such as combined sewer overflows, storm runoff and contaminated leachate from old dumpsites, were also causing significant problems. However it was the agricultural pollution problem that provided the impetus for the RAP.

The agricultural community rallied to control erosion and reduce phosphorus levels even as the Stage 1 (problem identification) process was just beginning. Farmers in the basin spent nine times the federal cost-share money for the purchase of conservation tillage equipment. More than 100 people became involved in the Stage 1 process, including local government officials, business representatives and, most importantly, interested citizens.

As Stage 1 progressed, it became apparent that urban sources of toxics were far more extensive than had been previously documented. For example, 94 abandoned dumpsites and impoundments were identified during the Stage 1 process -- many as a result of the efforts of citizen volunteers. This locally-generated information was instrumental in expanding the RAP's focus to include urban sources of toxic pollution.

The evolution of the Maumee RAP can also be credited to the spirit of cooperation that existed among the City of Toledo, Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments and Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. People with the ability to look beyond traditional agency boundaries and go the extra mile are essential to the collaborative process. What direction the Maumee RAP may have taken without the dedication of a few key individuals is difficult to say.

The alarming number of dumpsites in the Area of Concern clearly indicated the need for more data. Estimated cleanup costs in the hundreds of millions of dollars pointed to a critical need to identify priority sites for remedial action. Again, public involvement was a catalyst. The local community was able, through the efforts of U.S. Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, to secure federal funding to fill in the gaps in the Stage 1 data. The goal of this project, now in its third year, has been to provide ecosystem "triage" relating water quality impacts to potential sources and determining which are doing the most harm. This $3.5 million study, crucial in establishing priorities for cleanup, would not have been possible without the political support fostered by the RAP process.

Over $140 million has already been spent on water quality improvements in the Maumee Area of Concern. The City of Toledo's combined sewer overflow abatement program is reducing sewage overflows, and initiatives under the U.S. Superfund law and by state authorities are already underway at several waste sites.

Conservation tillage has increased from 12 percent of the acreage farmed in the basin to 51 percent. Phosphorus reduction goals have exceeded 100 percent achievement in several counties. Yet much remains to be done in order to fully restore beneficial uses. As the magnitude of the total cleanup effort unfolds, a fundamental but potentially volatile question arises: What does restoration of beneficial uses mean to the community?

Finding and allocating resources for cleanup is a monumental task. The answer to the "How clean is clean?" question will vary depending on the resources and mechanisms available. Stringent Superfund standards may not always be necessary and other criteria may not be adequate in restoring impaired uses. How much should be spent on that last percentage of contaminants when there are dozens of sites and limited resources? For whose protection should cleanup standards be developed: the general public, boaters, the aquatic community?

The Maumee RAP provides the framework for answering these questions. By continuing to promote and strengthen the partnerships that have been formed among government agencies, elected officials and residents of the watershed, the RAP process is a forum for informed discussion and consensus building. The spirit of cooperation and public involvement that has characterized the early years of the Maumee RAP will become even more important in the difficult decisions that lay ahead. Echoing the sentiments of the 1987 Biennial Meeting, public awareness of the problems and ownership of the solutions will be the key to restoring the Maumee River ecosystem.

For more information contact Sue Thomas, Maumee River Remedial Action Plan Coordinator, Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, Division of Surface Water, PO Box 1049, Columbus, OH 43216-1049. Telephone (614)644-2865.


Le cours inférieur de la rivière Maumee a été désigné comme un secteur préoccupant surtout en raison des sources agricoles de sédiments et de phosphore qui l'affectent. Le bassin de drainage de la rivière Maumee couvre plus de 17 000 kilomètres carrés (6600 milles carrés) surtout composés de terres agricoles; il constitue la plus importante source de charge solide du lac Érié. Les sources urbaines de pollution comme les trop-pleins d'égouts unitaires, l'écoulement des eaux pluviales et le lixiviat contaminé provenant des anciens dépotoirs causaient également de graves problèmes. C'est toutefois le problème de la pollution agricole qui donnait l'impulsion au PAC.

Au fur et à mesure que se déroulait l'étape 1, il devenait évident que les sources urbaines de substances toxiques étaient beaucoup plus importantes que prévu. Par exemple, au cours de l'étape 1, on a réussi à repérer 94 dépotoirs et réservoirs de retenue abandonnés, souvent grâce aux efforts de citoyens bénévoles. Cette information d'origine locale a permis d'élargir l'objet du PAC pour tenir compte des sources urbaines de pollution toxique.

L'esprit de coopération et d'implication du public qui a caractérisé les premières années du PAC de la Maumee prendra encore plus d'importance dans le contexte des décisions difficiles qu'il faudra prendre. La sensibilisation du public aux problèmes et leur intervention dans le choix des solutions seront la clé de la restauration de l'écosystème de la rivière Maumee.

Revised: March 20, 1997
Maintained by Kevin McGunagle, mcgunaglek@ijc.wincom.net