The restoration/cleanup of the Mahoning River and the protection of its tributaries are needed for sustainable life in the Mahoning Valley—for current and future generations. Improvement in the quality of the river will help meet the current needs of residents and assure that future generations inherit a place of economic and physical health. To meet these needs, tools such as sustainable development and sustainability planning are needed. A list of suggested sustainability plans for the Mahoning Valley is described, herein.
1. Description (what sustainability means)
2. Natural Resources (what are they, where do they come from, how plentiful are they?)
3. Sustainable Development (introduction to and terms of ecologically sustainable development)
4. Sustainability Plan
(a general description of plans and definition of sustainability)
5. Suggested Sustainability Plans for the Mahoning Valley (a specific list of actions to take)
6. Mahoning River Restoration Needed For
Sustainability (planning for now and the future)
One description of sustainability is: “the human use of natural and cultural resources which aims to meet the needs of society today, while conserving our resources and ecosystems for the benefit of future generations.” The United Nations World Commission on Environment & Development states that sustainability means “development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Sustainability has to do with natural resources. So, what are our natural resources, where do they come from, and how plentiful are they?
Let’s start with the biggest, most fundamental resources: Air, Water, and Soil—these three things are necessary for the existence of all life on the planet; without these we would not be here. As humans, we breathe the air, drink the water, and eat the edible plants that grow in the soil. The same is true for wildlife and domesticated animals. So, those are the core natural resources for survival.
Out of those three elements, ecosystems have formed that support a wide variety and diversity of life.
In the earth, our ancestors discovered, are natural resources of a wide variety and usage: iron ore, copper, tin, coal, limestone, to name just a few. These are found in rocks or squeezed between layers on earth. Humans, over time, have learned how to transform these into resources for making iron and steel (iron ore & limestone), bronze (copper and tin), heat and electricity (coal).
One important tool that helps us meet our needs today while conserving our resources are “sustainable planning” and “sustainable development.” It is done through the use of environmental planning and geographical information systems (GIS). As communities grow, Environmental Planning Specialists are helpful in mapping the areas in which development and redevelopment are the most economically sensible, while protecting areas that are environmentally sensitive or critical resources, such as drinking water resources, wetlands, flood hazard areas, prime farmlands, green space and more. This is called ‘Smart Growth’ and it also encourages development that is visually pleasing. Smart Growth focuses on using already-existing assets such as historic downtowns, already-built neighborhoods, and the infrastructure of roads, sewers, and systems of water, electricity and natural gas delivery. When new development occurs in the rural areas, the community must pay for the new development of roads, sewers, and water lines—and must keep paying for their upkeep year after year. So, there is a concrete and ongoing cost to the greater community for this kind of growth, also known as sprawl. Then, there is the cost on the environment and wildlife: forests are cut down for new development; habitats and corridors for wildlife are destroyed, driving wildlife into smaller and smaller areas; erosion results from the clearcutting of trees and silt ends up in streams, which negatively impacts the aquatic wildlife; silt also fills up reservoirs, which eventually leads to costly dredging.
Furthermore, some natural environments are lost forever: A local Environmental Planning Specialist says: “It is important to understand that we must take care of the areas we have already developed. We can remodel or rebuild human-made developments relatively quickly, whereas we cannot simply ‘remodel or rebuild’ the critical natural resources (that took hundreds or even millions of years to develop). We need to strive for what is known as ‘Ecologically Sustainable Development.’”
Another important tool that helps us meet our needs today while conserving our resources is a “sustainability plan.” Such a plan must be based on ecosystem concepts and should be developed for ecosystems like the Mahoning River Watershed. Because of the high human population, far exceeding the carrying capacity of the Mahoning Watershed Ecosystem, it is not practical to expect to achieve sustainability for the Watershed, but that should be the goal.
A key concept in a sustainable society (community) is that there are no wastes: All waste becomes raw material for other processes.
“Sustainability is an ecosystem-based concept which recognizes that (1) natural resources essential for human existence are finite and limiting; (2) for humanity to continue with the quality of life that we now enjoy, communities must not consume or degrade natural resources, (i.e., each generation lives off the interest of nature’s capital). Sustainability is not an abstract concept that society aspires to achieve—sustainability will occur. The question is whether we will achieve sustainable resource use by design, where quality-of-life is maximized, or whether it will occur by natural processes that result in extreme human suffering, misery, and long-term degradation of quality of life.” - Lauren Schroeder, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, YSU, Biology
Suggested Sustainability Plans for the Mahoning Valley:
Plans for the Mahoning Valley would include (but not be limited to) the following list provided by Dr. Lauren Schroeder, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, YSU, Biology:
1. Cycle wastewater from secondary sewage treatment plants back into the ecosystem as irrigation water for strip mine spoils, forests, recreational areas (parks, wildlife refuges etc.).
2. Water lost via storm sewers and stream channels should be viewed as a resource and used to develop wetlands. This process would provide green spaces, reduce water pollution, provide recreational areas (hiking, bird watching, fishing, parks, bike trails, etc.), reduce flooding, provide carbon sinks to reduce atmospheric carbon, and maintain stream flow.
3. Reduce fossil fuel consumption by: use of alternative fuels (biomass, direct solar, wind, etc.). Increase insulation of buildings. Increase fuel efficiency. Implement effective mass transit.
4. Increase forested areas to reduce carbon dioxide content of atmosphere.
5. Foster high-density housing located on brownfields (abandoned steel mill & industrial land along the river corridor) with open spaces, parks, woodlands, wetlands integrated into the developments.
6. Provide public-access flower and vegetable gardens for inner city dwellers.
7. Stop urban sprawl, strip development, and conversion of farmland to urban and industrial use.
8. Base industrial development on synergistic industry clusters. (See works of Paul Hawkins.)
9. Restore quality of the Mahoning River: riparian restoration and protection, urban runoff treatment using wetlands, reduced water fluctuation by increased forestation and wetland development, removal of toxic sediments, restoration of habitat, etc.
10. Stabilize or reduce Valley’s human population. Concentrate on improving quality of life not quantity of life.
11. Create a corridor system that connects park areas with vegetation corridors. The Mahoning River riparian zone could be the main connecting trunk.
12. Establish and construct the minimum amount of wetland area required to sustain the Mahoning River.
13. Create park and “natural areas” within biking distance of all residents.
14. Develop hiking and biking trails to all regions of the Mahoning Valley. Every resident should be able to leave home via a bicycle and safely reach an exclusive bike-hiking trail.
15. All urban runoff (streets, roofs, roads, parking lots) should pass through a wetland before entering the Mahoning River.
17. Restrict the use of herbicides, fungicides, insecticides, and fertilizer for aesthetic enhancement (restrict use of chemicals on lawns).
18. Develop local (small scale) energy production using fuel cells or co-generation with biomass fuels.
19. The time has come for us to live by the principle: "We have not inherited the earth from our fathers, we are borrowing it from our children." (David Brower)
Mahoning River Restoration Needed for Sustainability:
The toxicity of the sediments and impoverished life in the mainstem (industrialized section) of the Mahoning River has discouraged recreational, economic and aesthetic use of much of the river. In fact, a local community development specialist said: “We live on a river but function as if it’s not there. The Mahoning River is stigmatized. Therefore, it has no contemporary use.” A restored Mahoning River would support recreation (fishing, boating, birdwatching, hiking, parks, bikeways), provide a focus for residential development, support a sense of pride in our community, enhance the aesthetic attributes of the valley and foster economic enhancement.
With the restoration/cleanup of the polluted (industrialized) section of the Mahoning River and the former steel mill land along its corridor, we have a one-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-create the river corridor in a sustainable way. The first step is to rid the river and land of the industrial toxins, and then develop the corridor in a way that balances the needs of people and wildlife with the long-term health of the air, water and soil. By doing this, we will be showing respect to ourselves, as well as future generations, who will inherit the same land, air, and water.
In the meantime, while we work on restoring the river (which will take several years), the tributaries of the Mahoning River, and the land through which they flow, are threatened by other sources of pollution such as pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers from yards and farmfields, as well as muddy erosion from the clearing of land for development. So, sustainable planning applies to the entire watershed in order to create a healthy place for us to live and for those who will live here a hundred or five hundred years from now.
http://www.educationplanet.com (science-related/environment information for students)
http://www.rivernetwork.org (supports river and watershed advocates)
http://www.sustainable.org (see section on protecting natural resources)
http://www.susdev.org (information about sustainable development institute)
Griesinger Films: 4 videos expressing the fundamental concepts of sustainability in the language of economics)
www.griesingerfilms.com or 440-423-1601; 7300 Old Mill Road, Gates Mills, OH 44040
The Snowy Plover Video Project: all about sustainability, www.snowyplover.com; also a bookstore.
The EcoOutlet: “Sustainable Environments,” general audience, 1986,
Nature Journaling – teaches children (and adults) how to observe and connect with the work around us and how to study the natural world with the help of a journal.
www.story.com or 800-827-8673
Hawkins, Paul . 1993. The Ecology of Commerce: A Declaration of Sustainability. Harper-Collins. New York.
Bucholtz, A. R. 1993. Principles of Environmental management The Greening of Business. Prentice Hall.
Gowdy, J. and S. O’Hara. 1995. Economic Theory for Environmentalists. St. Lucie Press. Delray Beach
Brown, L.R., C. Flavin, H. French. 1998. State of the World. A Worldwatch Institute Report on Progress toward a Sustainable Society. W.W. Norton. And Company. New York.
Gotlieb, Y. 1996. Development, Environment and Global Dysfunction Towards Sustainable Recovery. St. Lucie press, Delray Beach, Fl.
Udall, Stewart L.. 1990. The Quiet Crisis and the Next generation. Peregrine Smith Books, Salt Lake City.
Orie Loukes Department of Biology Ohio of Miami University.
“Sustainably Planning for the Mahoning River Restoration” - By Leanne Turner 2003
The Mahoning River Education Project, Youngstown State University www.ysu.edu/mahoning_river