Not just for the birds: Mill Creek's restoration pays off economically

Posted at 8:00 AM, Oct 30, 2017

SHARONVILLE, Ohio -- The Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce gave its blessing to treating the Mill Creek like an open sewer in 1914, declaring it the martyr of progress, according to the Mill Creek Watershed Council of Communities.
And industry obliged, dumping untreated sewage and toxins into the previously bucolic stream, and even shifting portions of the stream into concrete channels. 
The story of undoing more than a century of damage has been well told, including many heartening reports of improving water quality, wildlife returning and flash flooding being reduced.
Perhaps because of the damage that blind capitalism did to the creek, less attention has been paid to the economic benefits associated from transforming blighted stretches into attractions.
“I think the two are intertwined,” said Dave Schmitt, executive director of Mill Creek Watershed Council of Communities and Groundwork Cincinnati. “If you are improving the stream and improving the watershed, it provides economic opportunities.”
State and federal environmental agencies, along with local governments and volunteers, have invested millions of dollars into projects in the last 20 years that have restored large sections of the creek.
Invasive plants have been removed and replaced with native vegetation, which has helped control flash flooding during heavy rainfall and also helped native fish, insects and birds make a comeback.
In October, the Mill Creek Yacht Club and its guests, the Buckeye United Fly Fisherman, caught 19 fish in a couple of hours, mostly catfish  and striped, smallmouth and largemouth bass, Schmitt said.
"The most recent water quality conducted by (Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati) shows water quality on a daily basis is better than the Little Miami’s,” Schmitt said, noting it deteriorates when combined sewer and stormwater drains overflow in storms. He added that fish and other water life have doubled in 10 years.
But the effects of restoration are starting to extend beyond the Mill Creek itself.
Ed Loyd, a REDI Cincinnati economic development group official, said turnarounds such as the Mill Creek have been a recruiting tool.
“As we market the Greater Cincinnati region, a huge component for what attracts and helps businesses to grow here is the preservation of our parks, our arts,” he said.
Mill Creek’s turnaround from one of the most polluted rivers in the country to an attraction on some stretches “really shows how resilient and creative we can be,” Loyd said.
Here are a few examples of the economic boost Mill Creek’s revival has provided:

Mill Creek's comeback boosts economyBob Driehaus covers economic development. Contact him and follow stories on Facebook, Google, and Twitter.