Laura Leff

Profession: Professor and Assistant Chair in the Department of Biological Sciences at Kent State University. Ph.D., University of Georgia.


Connection to the river: "Along the length of the river, the human impacts change. Recently, about a year ago, I had a student who studied Lake Rockwell and the Cuyahoga River upstream of Lake Rockwell to see how carbon inputs affected the function and structure of the microbial community."

Importance of the Cuyahoga River: "This is our home watershed which is really important obviously to us as a university. It also has this smaller, pretty unusual shape watershed. And it has this change in land use, it becomes this highly urban environment downstream with lots of tributaries that are affected by all kinds of stuff that people are doing."

The river's significance to the planet: "So the Cuyahoga River is said to have inspired the environmental movement, the Environmental Protection Agency, when the materials that were floating on top of the water caught fire previously, and so that gives it a sort of infamy."

Greatest or most recent accomplishment: "A few months ago we did this water symposium, it wasn’t focused specifically on the Cuyahoga, but it was focused, among other things, on human impacts on water and 'Water in the City' was one of our session titles."

"It got together people from the community, people from different agencies and then we had all these speakers from around the country."

Time spent caring for or researching the river: "I have been studying the river and Lake Erie for about 20 years. It's been awhile."

First memory of the Cuyahoga River: "It must have been when I was in town here probably looking at the dam before they had removed it. I was just driving across the bridge here in town."

Why I do what I do related to the river: "I'm an aquatic ecologist, so we're always concerned about water equality. Freshwater resources are very limited, there's not a lot of water on the planet thats fresh water. So things we do really impact it."

Favorite thing about the river: "If I go out to one of the smaller tributaries, I can understand and think about the fact that that's just a space that is connected in a fundamental way to what's downstream and what's upstream. And so I think a lot of times people would go out to a place like Plum Creek Park here in Kent, or Breakneck Creek, or some place like that and just go 'OK, here it is,' but not really think about the fact that that's representing the sub-watershed (what was upstream), but what's there is actually gonna make a big difference downstream. It's all one thing, I don't know if people that don't study streams and rivers really think about it that way, as an integrated whole."