Initiative embraces legacies of Lake Erie, Cuyahoga River


Ultimate goals are to create “citizen ambassadors” who will advocate for the area’s resources and to nurture a “water economy.”

By – Peter Krouse – [email protected]

Lake Erie provides drinking water, commerce and recreation to millions of people. It’s fed by the Cuyahoga River, which is slowly shedding its cloak of disgrace to become a showcase of environmental recovery for future generations.

And now, the lake and river will be focal points of Cuyahoga County Executive Chris Ronayne’s plan to boost stewardship of the region’s freshwater resources and to make them an economic driver for Northeast Ohio.

“There’s a powerful story about Cleveland’s role in clean water,” Ronayne told and The Plain Dealer, starting with former Cleveland Mayor Carl Stokes calling for cleanup of the Cuyahoga River decades ago to his brother, Louis, pushing for the Clean Water Act as a member of Congress.

A means to sharing that story is the Fresh Water Institute, an initiative Ronayne hinted at while running for office and is about to launch using a $250,000 grant from the Cleveland Foundation and another $500,000 in federal funds earmarked by U.S. Rep. Shontel Brown.

Ultimate goals are to create “citizen ambassadors” who will advocate for the region’s freshwater resources and to nurture a “water economy” that generates jobs throughout the Great Lakes region, Ronayne said.


The seed for the institute was planted several years ago during a trip to Costa Rica, where Ronayne noticed the ecotour leaders were young people in their late teens and 20s. During a subsequent trip to Glacier National Park in Montana, Ronayne boarded a bio-fueled tour bus and was introduced — also by a young person — to the Glacier Institute and its programs to promote stewardship of the outdoors.

Those experiences melded into Ronayne’s own vision to amass a cadre of environmental stewards to look after the streams, lakes and rivers of Cuyahoga County and beyond.

The institute’s first program will provide a series of fellowships to Cuyahoga high school students, who will attend classes at the Foundry rowing and sailing center.

The nonprofit Teaching Place, also known as Teaching Cleveland, is creating curriculum that will include the history and ecology of the region’s freshwater and how it can play a role in economic development.

Students will learn about the defiling of the Cuyahoga River and its subsequent recovery, as well as the historical neglect of Lake Erie and the current battle with algal blooms induced largely by fertilizer runoff from farms in the northwest part of the state.

After two years, the students should be experts on the freshwater resources in and around Cleveland and be exposed to good, water-related jobs, such as with the Port of Cleveland or the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, said Jenita McGowan, Ronayne’s newly appointed deputy chief of staff for climate and sustainability.

There’s even talk of incorporating swim lessons into the plan so the youth will be more comfortable in and around water.

Teaching Place will be working with another local nonprofit called SYATT, for “see you at the top,” which has as part of its mission introducing children of color to outdoor experiences they might not otherwise have, said Greg Deegan, a former social studies teacher at Beachwood High School who is now executive director of Teaching Place.



* indicates required

Intuit Mailchimp

Contact Us