rough water kayaking
Photo courtesy of Rob Core

About the watershed

What is the Lower Olentangy Watershed?

A watershed is the land area that drains to a specific body of surface water such as a stream, river, lake or ocean.. Therefore, everything that occurs in a watershed has either a positive or negative effect on the health of its river.

Every watershed combines with other adjacent watersheds to form a basin, and basins combine to form larger watersheds. The Olentangy watershed is part of the Scioto River basin, which drains to the Ohio River. The Ohio River in turn flows into the Mississippi, which makes its way south to the Gulf of Mexico. Therefore, activities that occur here in north-central Ohio have a direct effect on the quality of water in all bodies of water that are downstream. Unhealthy activities in a watershed make for an unhealthy river, just as cleanup projects in one area help to enhance the health of others.

The Lower Olentangy River is 32 miles long, and the watershed includes about 150 square miles of land situated between the Delaware Dam and the Scioto River in the heart of Columbus. 22 of the river’s miles were designated a State Scenic River in 1973 because of its exceptional water quality.

The watershed includes the City of Delaware, several University campuses including the Ohio State University, and significant portions of Northern Columbus. A large section of Delaware County, the fastest growing area in Ohio, is also part of the watershed. About 250,000 people live in the watershed.

The confusing history of the name: The Federal Board on Geographic Names was created in 1890 and established public law in its current form in 1947. The Board was established to maintain uniform geographic name usage throughout the Federal Government. It also maintains local variants in their database. The Olentangy River was recognized by the BGN in 1914 and reaffirmed in 1963. The Board also recognizes that it has been called Oleutangy, Whetstone Creek, and Whetstone River on older topo maps and that the name Whitestone Creek has also been historically referenced. That’s in addition to the name Keenhongsheconsepung* that shows up in an Indian River and Place names in Ohio publication by August C. Mahr in 1957. Whetstone Creek was also known as the East Branch Olentangy River on some older topo maps. (Information supplied by Jeff Pierce of FSWCD).

*A Delaware word literally translated as “sharp tool river”, based on the shale found along its shores. (Wikipedia)

In 1833, the Ohio General Assembly passed legislation intending to restore the original Native American names to some Ohio waterways, but mistakenly gave Whetstone River the name “Olentangy” — Delaware for “river of the red face paint” — which had actually belonged to what is now known as Big Darby Creek. (Wikipedia)