CHIPPEWA CREEK’s watershed may be among the smaller ones along the lower Cuyahoga River, but it also has one of the steepest grades, and its lands are being quickly urbanized. Steep slopes and loss of wetlands’ water storage capacity means that larger volumes of water move more quickly over the land into tight spaces, the creek rises where water cannot spread out onto a flood plain, and the fast-moving water erodes the soil supporting roads and bridges.
Flooding in recent years has brought attention to the creek’s natural storm water management function, and how land use choices surrounding it have changed the way surface water moves across the area. The watershed is especially important to the health of the Cuyahoga as Chippewa Creek runs through the Metroparks’ Brecksville Reservation and empties into the river in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
The Chippewa Creek Watershed Planning Partnership has been formed to address these and other issues affecting the health and welfare of the creek and its environment. The group will study how to balance the need for development of the built environment to support the area’s economy with the need to maintain and restore the natural water management functions of the watershed.
Northeast Ohio, Cuyahoga County, including the communities of Brecksville, Broadview Heights, North Royalton, and small parts of Seven Hills and Parma.
• Increased volumes of water from …
• larger tracts of impervious surfaces flowing over…
• steep slopes and down the creek’s steep grade, causing…
• faster flows into the creek, creating…
• erosion, sedimentation, and loss of habitat, plus…
• loss of tree canopy in entire watershed, especially riparian zones, and…
• the need for more, and more-widely-distributed, floodwater storage.
The Chippewa Creek watershed has formed over the 10,000 years since the glaciers pushed clay and silt down from the great lakes. When the glaciers retreated, they left dense, heavy surface soils that hold moisture and are slow to allow water to permeate. This presents problems for homes that rely on septic systems.
Portions of the creek are lined with a smooth shale bedrock, and others have mixed cobblestone, sand, and gravel. Chippewa Creek carves a deep ravine through Bedford, Cleveland and Chagrin shale layers. In Brecksville Reservation, the bedrock changes to Red Bedford Shale and more erosion-resistant Berea Sandstone. These two shales form features such as Chippewa Falls, undercuts, plunge pools and sandstone boulders strewn throughout the gorge. Appropriately, “Chippewa” is an Algonquian Indian word that means “puckering.”
Chippewa Creek is designated a Warm Water Habitat (WWH) and therefore should be able to support a well-balanced population of fish and aquatic insects. Until the mid-1990s the entire stream was unhealthy and did not support such aquatic communities.
The upper and middle section of the creek, upstream from Brecksville, contains relatively unhealthy fish populations. This can be attributed to polluted runoff from expanding suburban land use, sedimentation from under-managed construction activity and stream bank erosion from increased storm water runoff. Also, waterfalls in Chippewa Creek may inhibit upstream replenishment of fish populations.
As the creek moves into the Brecksville Reservation and the Cuyahoga Valley National Park the health of aquatic life substantially improves. Both parks provide excellent riparian zones, wetlands and cobbled substrates, which together provide a setting in which aquatic communities may flourish.
The level of urbanization -– that is, the amount of generally impervious surfaces such as pavement, roofs and hard-packed lawns – has increased significantly over the past 15 years. In 2001 the watershed contained approximately 23% of this impervious surface, and the trend is accelerating.
As impervious surface coverage grows, the volume and velocity of storm water entering the stream increases. This accelerates the rate of erosion and flooding downstream, impacting aquatic life, public infrastructure and private property.
Attempts to accommodate built environments, such as culverting or burying the stream, only create increased erosion, loss of riparian corridors protecting streambeds, shortening of the stream’s route leaving it less room to handle more water.
The watershed is home to more than a hundred wetlands, which store and release water into the system at a proper rate. As urbanization increases, wetlands are drained and built on, removing important pieces of the natural infrastructure.
Recent reports indicate that Chippewa Creek’s chemical water quality meets Ohio EPA’s standards. In the past, Chippewa Creek suffered from elevated bacteria levels, making the water unsafe for human contact. Recent studies have shown that bacteria levels have improved.