Fifty years ago this June, Cleveland was forever tied to the U.S. environmental crisis when national media reported on a fire burning in the Cuyahoga River. Because of pervasive industrial pollution, the 1969 fire was not the first time that the Cuyahoga River had burned. But, this moment - thanks in part to a Time magazine story - caught the nation’s attention and became a landmark in the American environmental movement, proving to be a turning point in an ongoing conversation surrounding the country’s ecological health.
To mark this important anniversary, WKSU News presents Watershed, a multiple-part series telling the stories of the past, present and future of Northeast Ohio’s vital waterways. Reports begin airing the week after June 22 (the 50th anniversary of the “Burning River”) and continue throughout July. Staff journalists examine the current health of area rivers and Lake Erie, look at today’s environmental activism and governmental influence, and see how one single image launched a movement.
The series is not a historical documentary, but an accounting of where we are now and the challenges that lie ahead. Along with long-form reporting, a group of interview “vignettes” will air before the central series. These interviews are the result of a call-out to WKSU listeners who had personal stories about the Cuyahoga River, and the other rivers featured in the project, the Ashtabula and Black.
Watershed reporting includes:
State of the Rivers (week of June 24)
A look at the current condition of the Cuyahoga, Ashtabula and the Black Rivers, the mindset toward their use and the stakeholders who will influence what happens next. Reporters: Kabir Bhatia, Mark Arehart – Cuyahoga, Jeff St. Clair – Ashtabula and Black.
Where It All Ends Up (week of July 1)
The Cuyahoga, Ashtabula and the Black Rivers all empty into Lake Erie, which has been impacted by their industrial legacies. More recently, the lake has been hampered by newer issues ranging from toxic algal blooms to invasive species. Governor DeWine has appointed Joy Mulinex, someone with deep environmental credentials, as director of the Lake Erie Commission. WKSU will talk with Mulinex about addressing the challenges facing Lake Erie. Reporter: Sarah Taylor
One River, Competing Interests (week of July 8)
With the waterways’ recovery, there are competing demands for its use. Can industrial and recreational uses coexist? Is there enough river for both? Reporter: Kabir Bhatia
The Photo that Sparked a Movement (week of July 15)
Art is typically a reaction to events in the world around us. In the case of the burning river, it was a photo that helped spark a popular movement. WKSU will look back at that photo, its connection with that moment in history, its legacy and how photographers today have been inspired by the river’s restoration over the past 50 years. Reporter: Mark Arehart
Environmental Leadership and the Future of the Watershed (week of July 22)
The story of the “Burning River” ultimately led to a generation of environmental activism and the creation and passage of the Clean Water Act. Fifty years later, is there still the fervor among the next generation to pick up the charge? And, how does current activism match the mindset and current efforts by government from the federal to the local level? Reporters: Jeff St. Clair, Jennifer Conn