Fish and bugs love low dam modification and removal

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

What if I told you the Great Miami River in Dayton has some of the healthiest populations of fish and macroinvertebrates (stream bugs) and provides some of the best aquatic habitat in Ohio? You probably wouldn’t believe me. After all, urban rivers aren’t often associated with high water quality.

Recent studies commissioned by MCD indicate that the number and diversity of bugs and fish living in a 5-mile stretch of the Great Miami River in downtown Dayton exceed expectations for this section of the river.

We wanted to know if the river’s aquatic life would improve after the low dam near Monument Avenue in downtown Dayton was altered for paddling recreation. Before the kayak chutes were created, the low dam slowed the river’s flow under certain conditions. This lowered oxygen levels and made the river an undesirable place for species of bugs and fish that need lots of oxygen and clear water.

Fish sample from Great Miami River

Fish sample collected on the Great Miami River in Dayton

With funding assistance from Five Rivers MetroParks, MCD hired the University of Dayton’s Jeff Kavanaugh, Ph.D., to conduct the studies. Kavanaugh and his student researchers collected data in 2014 and 2015 before the low dam was modified, and again in 2017 and 2018 after the low dam was altered.

The studies took a close look at the diversity and population of the river’s fish and macroinvertebrate communities. Macroinvertebrates are stream bugs that live part of their lives underwater. Scientists track fish and bugs to determine a river or stream’s health because they can be sensitive to changes in habitat conditions and water pollution. If pollution-sensitive species are present in the river, experts believe the river is in good condition.

Key findings from the study include:

  • The fish community is diverse and abundant.
  • The macroinvertebrate community is also diverse and abundant.
  • The habitat conditions of the river channel are very good to excellent.
Dragonfly nymphs

Dragonfly nymphs are an example of a macroinvertebrate found in the Great Miami River.

Modifications to the low dam near Monument Avenue improved river channel habitat. The changes allowed healthier communities of macroinvertebrates to flourish, and the fish that feed upon those communities to return.

The results from the study show this section of the river could meet the state’s highest criteria for water quality.

The study also noted a few other factors that contribute to the health of this stretch of the Great Miami River:

  • The City of Dayton does not have a combined sewer system. This eliminates periodic discharges of raw sewage into the river during rain events.
  • Municipal wastewater treatment, thanks to requirements of the Clean Water Act, has played a major role in the recovery of the Great Miami River.
  • The buried valley aquifer sustains flow in the Great Miami River during droughts. Abundant water flows even during the driest times of the year, typically summer and early fall, thanks to the aquifer.

Dr. Kavanaugh also studied the fish, bugs and habitat conditions in the area surrounding the Tait Station low dam before its removal. He will compare that data with data from studies completed after the dam was completely removed in 2018.

Wear it: Your excuses don’t hold water

By Brenda Gibson, public relations manager

How many different ways can we say it? Wearing a life jacket can save your life. We know, we know. You have all kinds of reasons why you don’t want to wear it. Here are five excuses we’ve heard for not wearing a life jacket and why they don’t hold water.

I have life jackets on board.

That’s like saying, “I have seatbelts in my car.” They don’t do any good unless you wear them. Have you ever tried to put on a seatbelt during an accident? The same goes for trying to put on a life jacket. There’s just not enough time.

I’m a strong swimmer.

That’s great, but are you a smart swimmer? Because a smart swimmer would know that if you fall into the water, your clothes can feel a lot heavier and exhaust even a strong swimmer.

It’s too hot, and life jackets don’t look cool.
Nice try, but the days of the old-fashioned, bulky orange life jacket are long gone. There are many choices of life jackets including trendy colors and patterns and those that can resemble a pair of suspenders or a belt pack. They not only look cooler, they are cooler.

The life jacket gets in the way.

Again, you have plenty of choices to find the one life jacket that will work for you no matter the activity.

Nothing is going to happen to me.

Face it, accidents happen. Boating can be fun, safe and enjoyable with the smallest of efforts. Are you really willing to take the chance of losing your life, and causing pain and suffering for your family and friends just because you wouldn’t “Wear It!” Come on, you’re better than that.

Find the right life jacket for you. And WEAR IT! Then download any or all of the river recreation maps for more information on paddling safety.

Safe Boating Week is May 18-24 2019.

Tweet us a photo of you wearing your life jacket @mcdwater

Tour de Way — A Riverway Giveaway

By Elizabeth Connor, Great Miami Riverway 

Sometimes the best travel plans are right in your own backyard. If you’re looking for new and exciting activities to do and places to visit this year, you won’t have to travel far.

The Great Miami Riverway’s Tour de Way passport program launches on May 4. You can explore the region all year long with more than 100 locations, perfect for the adventurer, the art lover, the aviation enthusiast, the beer connoisseur, and everyone else in between.

Each time you visit one of the locations, you’ll collect points that can make you eligible for exciting prizes like a SmithFly Shoal Tent (world’s first floating tent). The program runs through March 1, 2020, so there’s plenty of time to explore and collect points.

 

Get started
To get started, you simply visit one of the many locations that will be listed on greatmiamiriverway.com starting May 4. Follow the instructions to find the QR code with your smartphone. The first time you scan a QR code, you’ll be prompted to create a Great Miami Riverway account. Every time you visit a new location, you collect points in your account, making you eligible for prizes such as a bicycle, downtown gift cards and more. The more locations you visit, the more chances you have to win.

Each location enters your name into the drawing, so if you visit 50 locations, you have 50 chances to win. This is not a race. We encourage you to spend time in each location and enjoy the community. You have 10 months to complete this, so enjoy it!

Keep checking the Riverway’s social media accounts for pop-up and temporary QR code locations. If you want to win the big prizes, you’ll need those extra points! If you take a photo while exploring and use the hashtag #RiverwayGiveaway, you’ll receive double points for that location. Photos can be posted on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

The winners will be announced at the 2020 Riverway Summit. You don’t need to be present to win, but you will need to pick up your prizes. They are too large to ship!

A Tour de Way guide to each city—Sidney to Hamilton—will be available on the Great Miami Riverway website.

RiverCon
Tour de Way launches May 4 in Middletown at a new event called RiverCon. Held at the MetroParks of Butler County’s River Center, the event will combine Star Wars and the Great Miami River. There will be a Star Wars costume contest, Jedi yoga, live music, downtown shuttle and amazing food trucks. It’s the perfect place to log your first Tour de Way location. #MayTheRiverBeWithYou

The Great Miami Riverway is 99 miles of river, paved trails, and connected communities from Sidney to Hamilton. MCD is a partner in the Great Miami Riverway.

“Think” theme for Groundwater Awareness Week, March 10-16

By Sarah Hippensteel Hall, Ph.D., manager for watershed partnerships

Many of us never think twice about groundwater—where it comes from, how much there is, or how to protect it. We just turn on the spigot and water flows.

But maybe it’s time to think for a minute about this amazing resource that keeps us all alive, literally.

Think is the theme for this year’s National Groundwater Awareness Week (#GWAW), March 10-16. Groundwater Awareness Week is an annual observance highlighting responsible development, management, and use of groundwater. The Think theme urges each of us to consider ways we can protect this most valuable natural resource.

So Think about not running the water while you brush your teeth. Or Think about getting that leaking faucet fixed. Think about the farmers that rely on groundwater to grow the food you eat. And Think about having your well inspected to protect your drinking water system.

Here are few steps you can take to ensure your family’s health and protect our region’s groundwater:

  • Support better land use planning that will protect water and maximize economic opportunity. MCD can help communities that want to integrate water protection into their land use plans, zoning code, and subdivision regulations.

 

Did you know?

  • Approximately 132 million Americans rely on groundwater for drinking water.
  • Groundwater is used for irrigation, livestock, manufacturing, mining, thermoelectric power, and several additional purposes, making it one of the most widely used and valuable natural resources we have.
  • Americans use 79.6 billion gallons of groundwater each day. Groundwater in the Great Miami River Watershed supplied people with 6 billion gallons of water in 2016.
  • Groundwater is 20 to 30 times larger than all U.S. lakes, streams, and rivers combined.
  • 44 percent of the U.S. population depends on groundwater for its drinking water supply, including 2.3 million people in southwest Ohio.
  • More than 13.2 million households have their own well, representing 34 million people.

As we approach National Groundwater Awareness Week, MCD is proud to have earned the distinction of “Groundwater Protector.” The award is presented to various groups for taking steps to conserve and protect groundwater.

MCD works to protect and improve the quantity and quality of water available to people living and working within the Great Miami River Watershed. Through research, educational programs, funding, and community events, MCD’s work on water stewardship issues provides citizens with the information they need to make safe, sustainable decisions regarding their water. MCD provides insight to elected officials and community leaders, inspiring stewardship at the local, regional, and national levels. Since 1915, the Miami Conservancy District has been committed to the protection, preservation, and promotion of water and water-related causes.

MCD participates in #GWAW to raise awareness of the critical importance of groundwater to healthy communities and a thriving economy.

Please visit bit.ly/MCDstateofthewater for more facts about our groundwater.

The National Ground Water Association encourages everyone to become official “groundwater protectors” by taking steps to conserve and protect the resource. Businesses, individuals, educators, students, federal agencies, cities, associations, and everyone in between can ask to be added to NGWA’s groundwater protector list through its website or on social media. Have an awesome story to tell? Send it to NGWA and they might highlight your efforts.

More than 4 feet of precipitation in 2018!

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

One year ago, I wrote a blogpost summarizing the year 2017 as “another wet year.”

Now I’m summarizing water conditions for 2018, and I could pretty much copy and paste what I posted last year. And, with some minor changes, it would ring true. Last year reflects a continuation of the trend in rising precipitation for our region. If it continues, we’ll see more rain, more runoff, and more high-water events in the future.

The chart below shows how the 30-year average annual precipitation for the Great Miami River has changed since 1945. Note the upward trend in precipitation that began sometime around the late 1980s to early 1990s.

Noteworthy Weather
Significant weather events in 2018 included record high precipitation in February, a large high-water event in April, significant showers and thunderstorms in August, the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon in September, a much warmer-than-normal October, and a cold and very wet November.

Precipitation for 2018 was much above average for the Great Miami River Watershed at 50.68 inches. This is 10 inches above the 30-year average annual precipitation of 40.30 inches. The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) observation station in Dayton recorded 48.70 inches of precipitation in 2018, which is the sixth highest since record-keeping began in 1883.

Monthly precipitation was more than 1 inch above average in February, April, August, September, and November. May, July, and October were the dry months, recording more than 1 inch below-average precipitation. February set an all-time record high for the month with an average of 5.35 inches of precipitation for the Great Miami River Watershed.

The chart represents an average of 42 precipitation stations MCD operates.

Three High Water Events in the Top 100
The greater-than-average amounts of precipitation in 2018 led to above-average runoff. Runoff is that portion of precipitation which flows downhill or seeps into aquifers, and enters streams, rivers, lakes or ponds. Runoff in the Great Miami River Watershed ultimately ends up in the Great Miami River. Annual runoff for the Great Miami River was 23.26 inches in 2018, which is 8.69 inches above average. MCD recorded 13 high-water events last year – well above the average of eight. A high-water event is defined by MCD as a time when one or more of the following occurs:

  • Any one dam goes into storage – when the conduits slow the flow of water. This is approximately when the conduits are flowing full.
  • The river at any one of the cities we protect reaches an action stage as defined by MCD’s Emergency Action plan.

The largest high-water event in 2018 took place from April 3-9 and resulted in a total peak storage of 65,050 acre-feet (21.2 billion gallons) of water behind all five MCD dams. This event ranked as the 12th largest high-water event in MCD history. MCD also recorded its 49th and 55th largest events in 2018.

There is evidence that rising global temperatures are increasing the amount of water or humidity in the atmosphere. Satellites have measured a 4-percent rise in water vapor in the air column. The more humid atmosphere seems to be making storms wetter. Many weather stations in the United States are showing increases in extreme precipitation. Our region seems to be showing signs of this trend.

 

 

MCD monitoring winter weather systems whether mild or wild

Like it or not, winter 2018 – 2019 is upon us. What kind of winter can we expect in the Miami Valley this year? Will it be cold and snowy, or mild and dry?

It’s hard to say, according to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA). The go-to signs that often signal winter weather patterns are slow to give away their secrets this year.

The bottom line: It’s likely we’ll see cycles of mild weather as well as periods when arctic air descends our way as shorter term influences play out.

Whatever winter brings, MCD will monitor upcoming weather systems, preparing for any flood protection response needed in the communities we serve.

Read on to learn more about El Nino, Arctic Oscillation and more influences on our winter weather patterns 

Teleconnections in meteorology refer to large-scale patterns of pressure and temperature in the earth’s atmosphere that impact weather globally. Three teleconnections that influence winter weather in the Miami Valley include the El Niño –Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Arctic Oscillation (AO), and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO).

ENSO exerts a strong influence on the path of winter storm systems as they track across the United States. ENSO cycles tend to operate on timescales of at least several months and have long-lasting influences on global weather patterns. There are three phases to the ENSO cycle: El Niño, Neutral, and La Niña. Each of these phases impacts winter weather across the United States in different ways.

Locally:

  • Strong El Niños tend to result in milder and drier winters in the Miami Valley.
  • Strong La Niña winters tend to be wetter than normal.
  • Neutral conditions tend to result in colder than normal winters.

ENSO impacts winter weather in the Miami Valley by influencing the position of the Jet Stream and the track of storm systems across our region. AO and NAO also influence winters in the Miami Valley and add complexity to seasonal forecasts.

AO refers to changing atmospheric pressure over the arctic region of the globe.

  • Positive AOs tend to keep cold arctic air confined to northern latitudes. Negative AOs often plunge arctic air masses south into the eastern United States – think polar vortex.
  • AO cycles can be forecast only about two weeks ahead, so their use in making seasonal forecasts is somewhat limited.

NAO measures the difference in atmospheric sea level pressure between Iceland in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Northern Africa. Like the AO, the NAO has a positive and negative phase.

  • Positive NAOs are generally associated with warmer-than -normal temperatures in the eastern United States.
  • Negative NAOs tend to bring colder temperatures to the eastern United States.

Current atmospheric signals
NOAA forecasters think there is a 90-percent chance of El Niño conditions developing in the equatorial Pacific Ocean this year. Even if it does, it’s not expected to be a strong one. Weak El Niños do not exert as much of an influence on local winter weather as strong El Niños. So this year’s ENSO signal isn’t giving a strong signal as to how winter 2018 – 2019 will unfold.

The AO was in a negative phase throughout November allowing arctic air masses to travel south. This favored colder-than-normal temperatures in the Miami Valley, which is exactly what we got. The AO is now in a positive phase, which tends to keep cold air masses bottled up in the arctic. This favors more seasonable temperatures in the Miami Valley for the time being. NOAA is forecasting a continuation of positive AO conditions for the next week or so.

50:50 chances of a mild/cold or wet/dry winter
So what does this all mean?  NOAA published its 2018 – 2019 Winter Outlook for the United States, and the outlook is summarized in the two maps below.

The first map shows the temperature outlook. Much of the western United States is expected to have above-normal temperatures this winter. Southwest Ohio is colored white meaning there is an equal chance of above or below normal temperatures.

The second map shows the precipitation outlook. Above-normal precipitation is expected across much of the southern United States. Pockets of below-normal precipitation are expected across the Dakotas and Montana as well as the Great Lakes region. Once again, southwest Ohio is colored white meaning we have an equal chance of above-normal or below-normal precipitation.

Winter 2018 – 2019 – Anybody’s guess
Based on ENSO, AO and NAO information, it’s likely we’ll see cycles of mild weather as well as periods when arctic air descends our way as shorter term fluctuations in AO and NAO cycles play out. On top of all that is the simple randomness of local weather, making seasonal forecasting difficult at best!

Southwest Ohio – Ready to be hub of water research and technology

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

Our region is ready to be the hub of water knowledge and know-how.

Initiatives are under way in southwest Ohio to position our region as a leader in water research and technology development to help deal with world water challenges such as scarcity and contamination.

One of the newest initiatives, The University of Cincinnati’s CV Theis (pronounced Tice) Groundwater Observatory, is working to capitalize on our region’s most important natural resource – water – and the availability of local scientific talent.

Recently, the observatory was designated as part of The Worldwide Hydrobiogeochemical Observatory Network for Dynamic River Systems (WHONDRS). WHONDRS is a consortium of researchers and other interested parties that aims to understand how rivers and aquifers interact and how the interactions impact water quality and aquatic life.

Being part of WHONDRS “will increase (the observatory’s) visibility and utilization by researchers worldwide,” says Dr. David B. Nash, emeritus professor of the University of Cincinnati’s Department of Geology.

A technician works on the central pylon which stores and transmits data collected by sensors at the Theis observatory.

 

A Field Laboratory

Imagine if we could peer into the ground and watch water move from the river into the aquifer and vice versa. The Theis Groundwater Observatory, a field laboratory for studying water, lets scientists do just that.

The observatory is situated on the bank of the Great Miami River in western Hamilton County and is well equipped to monitor how the aquifer responds to changes in river flow. This research can lead to better understanding of:

  • How water movement into and out of the aquifer changes as the river rises and falls.
  • The impact of floods on water quality in the aquifer.
  • How contaminants from the river are filtered by the aquifer.
  • How bacterial processes degrade contaminants in the aquifer.

The knowledge that scientists gain at the observatory will enhance community efforts to protect the groundwater that is used for drinking water.

Since the observatory was dedicated in late 2017, the University of Cincinnati hired a faculty member with expertise in groundwater modeling. That person is now teaching a new undergraduate course using the data collected from the observatory.

Both undergraduate and graduate students have started working on projects at the observatory. In addition, water professionals from regional universities and businesses have visited the observatory and have discussed the possibility of collaborative research projects.

 

The observatory is sponsored by a collaboration of organizations including The Miami Conservancy District, the Duke Energy Foundation, Great Parks of Hamilton County, and the University of Cincinnati.

View time-lapse video of Tait Station low dam removal

Work on the removal of the Tait Station low dam is progressing nicely. At the end of October, the project was more than 75 percent complete and is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is fully funding the $1.75 million project to remove the Tait Station low dam.

With the low dam removed, water will cascade over a riffle of stones, creating a more picturesque experience. Removal of the low dam:

  • Will improve river safety and river access along the Great Miami Riverway.
  • Is expected to improve water quality as well as habitat for fish, insects and birds that live in and along the river.

Watch a time-lapse video of the project through Sept. 30.

Protecting wetlands could save developers time and money

Did you know, wetlands in Ohio – and possibly in this region? — are disappearing at an alarming rate? Since the late 18th century, most of Ohio’s wetlands have been destroyed or damaged through draining, filling, or other modifications.

Only 10 percent of the original 5 million acres of Ohio’s wetlands remain, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. And local planning and zoning regulations – despite good intentions – aren’t helping.

 Our Vanishing Wetlands – Death by a Thousand Cuts

Wetlands are areas where water covers the soil or is present either at or near the surface of the soil all year or for varying periods of time during the year. Wetlands provide many natural services. They provide a vital service to our rivers, streams, and groundwater by removing contaminants from water, storing floodwaters, creating habitat for plants and animals, and adding natural beauty.

Good Intentions – Less than Ideal Outcomes

MCD preserves natural features in some areas along our rivers – including floodplains and wetlands – to store floodwaters, protect habitat, and filter water runoff. Those natural features – and their benefits – could be included in new developments today through the principle of better site design.

Despite good intentions, local planning and zoning regulations can lead to less than ideal outcomes when it comes to saving wetlands. Regulations, intended to prevent pollution or flooding, can fail to consider the services that natural ecosystems provide. A recent case about two wetlands in a nearby township illustrates this point.

 Township Case

In 2017, a developer went through the normal planning and zoning process for a residential planned unit development (PUD) and received all the necessary permits from the township and county.

While working through the permit process, the developer identified the first wetland – using federal and state wetland inventories – near the construction site.  The developer’s plan left the first wetland intact.

During construction, the developer stumbled upon a second wetland, called a kettle bog, not identified on the wetland inventories. (Kettle bogs form in a depression created when a chunk of glacial ice covered by glacial debris melts away.) The bog was found when a dozer got stuck in the bog while the developer was trying to clear vegetation from the construction site.

Much of the construction site naturally drained toward the bog and then toward the first wetland. Once the developer found the bog, he was required by the permit process to change site drainage plans, forcing him to relocate a cul-de-sac.

Now, here’s the kicker: To comply with existing stormwater requirements, the developer also was required to remove the wetland (excavating 12 feet deep) and install a dry detention basin in place of the kettle bog wetland

Why did the bog have to be destroyed? Couldn’t the bog serve the same purpose as a detention basin? It’s possible, says the local planning administrator. And with the land sloping toward the first wetland, any additional runoff could have been handled as well. Wetlands are great at temporarily storing stormwater runoff and removing contaminants. Why not let the natural wetlands do what they do best?

 

Wetlands are great at temporarily storing stormwater runoff and removing contaminants.

 

Federal Regulations Protecting Wetlands

All projects that involve dredging or filling activities in wetlands require a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Section 404 of the Clean Water Act). Unfortunately, many Ohio wetlands are not yet identified or mapped, as in this case.

It’s probable that situations like this come up frequently in our region, but few planning and zoning authorities have adequate measures in place to ensure wetlands are protected.

 Improving Local Planning and Zoning for Wetlands

In this case, the township planning and zoning administrator wants to revise the township’s regulations with regard to protecting wetlands, including:

  • Require developers to collect soil samples for analysis, if the development is close to a known wetland or if there is reasonable evidence that wetlands may be present on a site.
  • Require the developer to have a professional wetland delineation performed at the development site, if soil samples show the presence of wetland soils.
  • Revise existing stormwater regulations to allow wetlands to be considered as a stormwater solution, when possible.

Revisions like these could have saved the developer a significant amount of time and money. He could have avoided installing a detention pond, stabilizing a road built upon unstable wetland soils, and reworking the street alignments.

And there would be one more vital wetland left in Ohio.

A little goes a long way with septic system maintenance

By Mike Ekberg, manager for water resources monitoring and analysis

The old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” rings especially true if you have a septic system.

Consider this: It only costs about $300 every four years to maintain your septic system. But it can cost $7,000 to $10,000 or more to repair or replace it. Plus, a poorly maintained septic system can contaminate groundwater/drinking water and spread disease.

You can’t put a price on the health and safety of your family.

What is a septic system?

Septic systems are highly efficient, self-contained, underground wastewater treatment systems. They are commonly found in rural areas and often consist of a septic tank and a drainfield.

You are probably on a septic system if:

  • You use well water.
  • The water line coming into your home does not have a meter.
  • Your neighbors have a septic system.

Septic Smart Week

Septic Smart Week is Sept. 17-21 and a good time to not only have your system maintained but review ways to keep your system working well.

Maintaining your septic system

Inspect and pump regularly: In general, your septic system should be inspected every one to three years and pumped every three to five years by a certified septic system professional.

Use water efficiently to avoid overloading the system: Consider using high-efficiency toilets and showerheads. When using the washing machine, be sure to select the proper load size to avoid using more water than needed.

Flush with care: Don’t flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper. Never flush:

  • Paints
  • Chemicals
  • Medications
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Dental floss

Take care at the drain:

  • Never pour cooking oil or grease down the drain.
  • Never pour oil-based paints or solvents down the drain.
  • Eliminate or limit the use of a garbage disposal.
  • Never park or drive on your drainfield.
  • Plant trees an appropriate distance from your drainfield. A septic service professional can help you with the property distance.
  • Keep roof drains, sump pumps and other rainwater drainage systems away from your drainfield areas. Excess water can slow or stop the wastewater treatment process.

How to care for your septic system

Information for this blogpost was taken directly from the Environmental Protection Agency’s “A Homeowner’s Guide to Septic Systems.”