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Hydrology of Athens County

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This page was last revised on July 12, 2011.

Athens County is principally located in the lower watershed of the Hocking River, which is a tributary of the Ohio River. The Ohio River in turn flows into the Mississippi, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Western Athens County overlaps into the eastern watershed of Raccoon Creek.

Major tributary streams to the Hocking River in Athens County include Monday Creek, Sunday Creek, Factory Creek, and Strouds Run.

Several of these streams are severely impacted by surface and subsurface coal mining. In the case of subsurface mines, water percolates from the surface into the mining shafts, picks up pollutants including sulfur and iron, and flow out of the shafts into surface streams. The sulfur forms sulfuric acid, which causes the iron to fall out a s iron oxide, often turning the streams bright orange or black. The pollution of the stream also binds most of the available oxygen, resulting in an acidic, dead stream.

Runoff from surface mining carries these same pollutants but also picks up a large amount of sediment from the mining site, which settles out farther downstream. This sediment deposition reduces the depth of streams, so that the streams flood more and tend to form swampy areas. Unfortunately, these swampy areas are relatively devoid of life--there are almost no aquatic animals, and only a few types of plants will live in such an environment.

The channel of the Hocking River at Athens has been hugely changed by a relocation of the river itself. Where once the river flowed through the Ohio University campus, the new channel was dug on the far side of the river valley and the old channel was filled in except for a small creek that continues to collect runoff from central Athens. This streambed can be clearly seen on the OU campus west of Clippinger Labs or north of Porter Hall.

There was once a mill on the Hocking River at White's Mill, just downstream from the West Union Street bridge over the river on the west side of Athens. An exposed bedrock streambed still can be seen at this site, which marks the beginning of the new engineered channel. The mill site, incidentally, still operates as a store that fronts on Ohio 682. The new channel section ends parallel to East State Street east of Athens. Because the new channel was made straight and wide, it has been silting up badly. The main reason for this is that the water flows more slowly in the new channel, and so tends to drop its sediment load.

In much of Athens County, streamways follow a typical pattern. Near ridge crests, rills or small drainways follow a moderate slope to form a gully, which becomes very steep, possibly forming cascades or small waterfalls at rock outcrops when it rains.

These steep gullies then level out at the bottom and join a small creek (or first-order stream) with a narrow alluvial border (or flood plain). These small creeks still have an obvious slope and usually flow much of their distance over exposed bedrock. These streams have few pools of any size, which are seldom more than one or two feet deep. These creeks tend to meander back and forth across their alluvial areas quite often.

The small creeks then unite to form a larger creek (which may be a second or third order stream). These larger creeks often have significant pools of water and streambeds of gravel and mud. In many stretches, the direction of the stream flow isn't apparent from the slope of the stream, which appears flat, but must be seen from the water flow itself. With these streamways, the alluvial plain is much wider and rather flat, and is usually used as farmland. These larger streams meander back and forth across their valleys through time, but often stay close to one side or another for considerable lengths. There are usually linear rock outcrops for long stretches along these streams. These are the streams that are known for their "swimming holes" and "fishing holes".

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