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The Cuyahoga River Fires Jun 09, 2008 ../pictures/thumbnails/00148-CuyahogaFrandAc06-tn.jpg Two Cuyahoga River fires brought water pollution to the forefront of public attention and helped prompt passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972.

About the Stormwater Partnership - Further Reading

The Cuyahoga River Fires

One of the defining examples of severe water pollution, below is a picture of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio taken from a newspaper from 1952. Yes, the river is on fire! Firefighters were called again to put out a blaze on this river in 1969. The image of the river catching fire due to pollution was seared in the public mind and helped lead to the passage of the Clean Water Act of 1972.

Fire fighters attempt to squelch an oil slick on the Cuyahoga River that caught fire and burned in 1952.

Cuyahoga River Fire


The caption from a newspaper described the extent of the fire:
"CLEVELAND, OHIO: Firemen stand on bridge over Cuyahoga River to spray water on tug Arizona as fire, started in an oil slick on the river, swept docks at the Great Lakes Towing Co. here today. The blaze destroyed three tugs, three buildings and the ship repair yards."

Although water quality has improved due to reducing point source pollution, our water is not yet fishable and swimmable. Segments of both the Elkhart and St. Joseph Rivers are listed as impaired waterways by IDEM.

Starting in the 1990s, the Clean Water Act has focused on reducing non-point or wet weather sources of pollution, including urban stormwater. Every time it rains, pollutants such as sediment, oils, antifreeze, fertilizers, pesticides, and animal waste are carried into storm drains and ditches. Normally, this water is not treated, but drains directly to a local stream, river, lake, or wetland. Stormwater pollution is much harder to treat than point source pollution, because it comes from many sources. That's why preventing pollution is such a large part of this program.

Everyone has a part to play in preventing stormwater pollution! Visit How to Get Involved to find out some things you can do to improve water quality.