Massive cleanup transforms

lower Ashtabula River

A sediment cleanup and habitat restoration project have restored the lower two miles of the Ashtabula River and advanced efforts to get it de-listed as a Great Lakes Area of Concern.


The Ashtabula River is one of Ohio’s most significant rivers, a biologically rich tributary of Lake Erie that supports 88 fish species. Decades of unregulated industrial and municipal waste discharges blanketed the last two miles of the river with a layer of toxic mud that contaminated aquatic life and disrupted navigation. The lower river was declared a Great Lakes Area of Concern in 1985 and the Ohio Department of Health posted signs in 1997 warning anglers to limit their consumption of fish caught in that stretch of the river. The Ashtabula River RAP/Partnership in 1988 began working to bring about a cleanup of the beleaguered river.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Contaminated sediments
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat
  • Contaminated fish
  • Shoals that prevented ships from reaching parts of the harbor


An excavator on a barge

Using an excavator, like the one pictured here, workers removed contaminated sediment from the Ashtabula River. Credit: Lynn Vaccaro Michigan Sea Grant.

Results and Accomplishments

The cleanup removed 630,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment that contained more than 25,000 pounds of hazardous polychlorinated biphenyls and other toxic compounds. The project improved water quality and deepened the river channel, making the lower Ashtabula suitable again for maritime commerce, fishing and recreational boating. A habitat restoration project slated for completion in 2012 will create 1,500 feet of prime fish habitat in the lower two miles of the river, which will bolster populations of muskellunge and northern pike.