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.”

 

 

No “silver bullet” to improving Great Miami River water quality

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water monitoring and analysis

Drastically reducing nutrient discharges from wastewater treatment plants won’t be enough to further improve water quality in the Great Miami River from Troy to just downstream of Fairfield, Ohio. That’s what a study, funded by 15 regional wastewater treatment plants and cities, showed.

Excessive nutrients in water (nitrogen and phosphorus) fuel excessive growth of algae and are a leading cause of impairment to biological communities in rivers and streams. Nutrients above natural levels in rivers and streams come from human sources, primarily agricultural fertilizers and municipal sewage.

The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) and the 15 partners chose LimnoTech, an environmental science and engineering firm headquartered in Ann Arbor, Michigan to complete the study. The company developed a water quality model and ran scenarios to look for potential improvement to river quality, specifically from decreased phosphorus discharges.

The model relied on many sources of data including water-quality data collected by MCD’s hydrology team. In addition, the model incorporated a Hydrologic Simulation Program — FORTRAN (HSPF) model, developed by the United States Geological Survey and MCD, to simulate tributary watershed flows.

An important objective of the project was to ensure that the model developed to represent water quality in the Great Miami River was scientifically sound. Three internationally recognized water-quality monitoring experts reviewed the model and endorsed it as “state of the science.”

Treatment plant upgrades won’t do enough
LimnoTech’s modeling study suggests that technology upgrades to 13 municipal wastewater treatment plants would reduce phosphorus levels in the Great Miami River downstream of Troy. But the improvements wouldn’t be enough to stop excessive algal growth which can cause large swings in oxygen levels and threaten aquatic life in the river.

photo of Island Park Dam with an algae bloom in 2012

An algae bloom at Island Park low dam in Dayton during the summer of 2012.

Another important finding of the study is that no dissolved oxygen measurement collected at a single point in the river is representative of the entire river channel. There is wide variability across the channel and at different upstream and downstream places. Therefore, no single point measurement should be relied on to determine overall river health or to set water quality goals.

River quality high but more improvements challenging
Excessive algal growth negatively affects the river’s health. Even when the model simulates drastic reductions from wastewater treatment plants, algal levels in the river remain too high to show significant improvement.

The study results don’t point to a realistic, cost-effective solution to improve the river.

It appears there’s no silver bullet, no single step that will fix the problem.

It’s likely some combination of reductions in nutrients from agricultural fertilizers and wastewater treatment plants will be necessary to resolve excessive growth of algae in the Great Miami River and reduce nutrient loads delivered downstream to the Ohio River and ultimately the Gulf of Mexico.

MCD is working with Limnotech to further the research to determine the amount of phosphorus and nitrogen reductions necessary to reduce algal communities in the Great Miami River.

MCD facilitated the study, and provided technical support and water quality data. The partnership also included: the cities of Dayton, Englewood, Fairfield, Franklin, Hamilton, Miamisburg, Middletown, Springboro, Troy, Union, and West Carrollton; Tri-Cities Wastewater Authority on behalf of the cities of Huber Heights, Vandalia, and Tipp City; and Montgomery County.

Read the entire study. If you have any questions, please contact me.

Tait Station low dam removal begins today

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

The project to remove the Tait Station low dam begins today. Here are the latest details on the project.

Q: Why is the Tait Station low dam being removed?
The low dam is being removed for several reasons:

  • To improve the quality of the river and make better habitat for bugs and fish.
  • To eliminate a clear and present threat to public safety for those who enjoy recreational use of the Great Miami River.
  • To avoid costly repairs that are far higher than any benefit the low dam provides.

Q: Where is the dam located?
Tait Station low dam is located in Dayton, Ohio on the Great Miami River at River Mile 76.6  just downstream of the University of Dayton Arena and the Carillon Historical Park.

Q: What are the benefits to removing the low dam?
Removing the low dam will improve the ecological conditions for aquatic life, improve river safety, reduce maintenance costs, improve river recreation access, and improve the scenic beauty of the Great Miami River.

Q: How big is the dam?
The low dam is approximately 600 feet in length. The low dam is a concrete structure with flashboards across the crest to maintain the pool level above the concrete spillway.

Tait Station low dam

 

Q: What will the river look like after the dam is removed?
Hydraulic modeling of the Great Miami River after the dam is removed shows that the water depths will be only slightly lower than current conditions. A new rock structure, called a riffle, will be created across the river channel to enhance fish habitat.

Q: Who owns the dam?
The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) owns the low dam. Tait Station was constructed around 1935 by Dayton Power and Light. The dam was originally constructed to provide cooling water to support power plant production. The power plant was decommissioned in 1983. Ownership of the low dam transferred to MCD in 1990.

Q: Does the dam provide flood protection for Dayton?
The low dam does not provide flood protection, however the low dam area is located within MCD’s flood protection area. Levees are present on both sides of the river.

Q: How much would it cost to repair the dam?
The cost estimate to repair the low dam is between $5 and $8 million.

Q: How much will it cost to remove the low dam?
The total estimate cost to remove the low dam is about $1.75 million.

Q: Who is paying for the dam to be removed?
The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is fully funding the project as a mitigation solution for unavoidable stream impacts in the Great Miami River Watershed.

Q: When will the project be complete?
October of this year, depending on weather and unforeseeable conditions.

Q: Who are the project partners?
ODOT is providing project funding, design, permitting, engineering and construction. MCD is providing technical support, background data, site access, funding and support for the project. The City of Dayton, Department of Water is providing utility coordination and utility relocation. DP&L is providing utility coordination and site access.

For questions or more information contact:
Sarah Hippensteel Hall, PhD
Manager, Watershed Partnerships
shippensteel@MCDWater.org

New website to improve your Great Miami River experience

By Elizabeth Connor, Riverway Coordinator

Nothing can ruin a good ride along the Great Miami River Recreation Trail like discovering midway that the trail is submerged from a recent storm.

But that’s about to be a thing of the past. You can now Find Your Way a whole lot easier with the Great Miami Riverway’s new website, featuring a map that automatically updates trail conditions.

One of the most unique features of the website is the live Trail Conditions Map. This map, developed by students in the University of Dayton’s Innovation Center, is the first of its kind. Visit most trail websites, and live conditions are manually entered. For the Great Miami Riverway, we went a step further.

Trail conditions on the Great Miami River Recreation Trail are updated every 15 minutes, allowing you to check the trails before you go. The website shows high water– red (high water currently), yellow (high water in the last 48 hours), or green (clear trail). The map also shows any construction on the trail.

This summer, additional sensor data will be collected to complete the live trail map for the Great Miami River Recreation Trail (Bike Trail No. 25). The gray dots indicate areas where data collection is on-going.

 

Personalize your trip itinerary

Another great tool on the site allows you to plan and create personalized trips along this 99-mile region in southwest Ohio. There are also recommendations and curated itineraries on things to do; places to stay; and where to eat on the trail, on the water, and in our communities.

“This website is going to be a game-changer for the way my friends and I use the trails,” says Kettering resident Gwen Owen. “There are so many great riverfront cities to explore, and now we’ll have the tools to be sure the trails are clear, plan what we want to see, where we want to eat and what we want to do.”

Marketing strategy

This website is a key communication tool in the Great Miami Riverway regional destination marketing strategy. Riverway communities are looking at a $43 billion tourism industry in Ohio. Having a useful website is crucial to successful visitor attraction and economic development for our river corridor neighborhoods.

Future website tools include additional live reporting, current weather conditions, and yes – even virtual reality. We encourage you to visit www.GreatMiamiRiverway.com to Find Your Way because there is plenty to explore.

Add your events, create your own trip itinerary, list your business, or simply find a great family activity for this weekend. We look forward to seeing you at the Riverway!

To be featured, use #GreatMiamiRiverway in your social media posts.

MCD – your “go to” for recreation maps, safety and more

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

Spring weather has FINALLY arrived! You are probably thinking about getting outside to enjoy a bike ride on the trails or launch your kayak in the beautiful river. Before you go, did you know MCD provides maps, trail conditions, day trip recommendations, safety guidelines, and more?

We do!  We want you to have a safe and fun experience in and along our rivers. We also track river levels and keep an eye on water conditions.

Here is how we can help.

Maps

Current River Levels

  • If you want to know how high the river levels are without leaving your couch, check out these MCD graphs that show the current, past, and forecasted river levels.

Water Conditions

  • River users frequently ask me, “Is the water safe?” The answer is yes, in most cases. Read more here.

Safety Guidelines

Safe Boating Week May 19-25.

And speaking of safety, there is one simple thing you can do to help make sure your next paddling or boating adventure is a safe one – wear a life jacket!

According to the U.S. Coast Guard:

  • 80 percent of all boating deaths are due to drowning.
  • 83 percent of drowning victims were not wearing a life jacket
  • Two-thirds of drowning victims were good swimmers.

Enjoy the Great Miami River & Play It Safe!

Groundwater Guardian Green Sites — an ounce of prevention

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

Most of us go to some lengths to protect our health. We may have an annual physical to catch issues early because we know how hard it can be to fix something once it’s broken.

The same is true of our aquifer – the underground source of this region’s drinking water.

Unlike a heart that can be transplanted, we can’t replace the aquifer. Once it’s broken (contaminated), it can be enormously expensive to fix and sometimes can be beyond repair.

An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure – and more – when it comes to the aquifer.

That’s why the Goundwater Guardian Green Site designation is a program we actively encourage for groups within our 4,000-square-mile Great Miami River Watershed.

Green Site designation helps promote and protect our groundwater by recognizing organizations that are good groundwater stewards and encouraging them to install more groundwater-friendly practices.

MCD sponsors organizations that apply for Green Site designation, pays their Green Site administrative fees for two years, and reimburses organizations up to $2,000 for installing new groundwater-friendly practices.

MCD encourages new projects that protect groundwater and are located over the Buried Valley Aquifer, are located near source water areas, show measurable results, and function over a long period of time.

Share your ground-water friendly practices

The Green Site program recognizes efforts to implement, measure, and document groundwater-friendly practices related to chemical use, water use, pollution prevention, and more. Green spaces, including nature centers, education campuses, parks, golf courses, and farms have been designated Green Sites by the Groundwater Foundation

To be eligible, land managers document the environmental impact of their groundwater-friendly practices, such as:

  • Pounds of fertilizer saved annually by using hardier plants.
  • Gallons of water saved annually by using drought-tolerant plant materials.
  • Amounts of toxic substances disposed of properly, and other related items.

The Groundwater Foundation first named MCD a Groundwater Guardian Green Site in 2010. MCD’s designation covers all of its dams and flood protection features in the cities it protects, covering more than 1,780 acres.

Since 2011, MCD has assisted many communities in earning Green Site designations. Won’t you join us?

Contact me at shippensteel@mcdwater.org with questions or if you need help completing the application.

National Groundwater Awareness Week, March 11-17

By Mike Ekberg, manager for water monitoring and analysis

Groundwater may seem mysterious. You can’t see it. You can’t hear it. You can’t touch it. Yet, it may be the most important resource we have because, quite simply, we can’t live without water. While this region has plenty of good quality groundwater, we can’t take it for granted.

Did you know:

  • Americans use 6 billion gallons of groundwater each day.
  • Volume of groundwater is 20 to 30 times larger than all U.S. lakes, streams, and rivers combined.
  • In the U.S., 44 percent of the population depends on groundwater for its drinking water supply, including 2.3 million people in southwest Ohio.
  • Groundwater in the Great Miami River Watershed supplied people with 6 billion gallons of water in 2016.

On March 11-17, help us celebrate National Groundwater Awareness Week by busting some myths about groundwater.

Myth: Groundwater in the Miami Valley is found in an underground river

Fact: Rain soaks into the ground and moves downward until it reaches a point where all of the pore space is filled with water. Groundwater occupies the tiny pore spaces between individual particles of sand and gravel or fractures in rock, and it moves through those spaces. Porous materials that can store usable quantities of groundwater and allow it to flow are called aquifers.

Myth: Groundwater moves rapidly

Fact: Groundwater can move at a rate of 0.5 to 50 feet per day in a productive aquifer. That’s pretty fast for groundwater! At this rate it would take groundwater at least six days to travel the length of a football field. Meanwhile, water in the Great Miami River could travel that distance in as little as 33 seconds!

Myth: Groundwater pumped from our region is never replaced

Fact: Rain and melting snow replenish our local aquifers. This region receives plenty of precipitation to replace the amount of water pumped for home and commercial use. And, most groundwater that’s used locally is returned as treated wastewater via the Great Miami River or one of its tributaries. In drier regions, however, water often is used at a faster rate than it can be replenished.

Myth: Groundwater and rivers and streams do not mix

Fact: Do you wonder why the Great Miami River doesn’t dry up? Even during a very hot and dry summer? Groundwater provides plenty of flow to our rivers and streams throughout the year – from 25 to 80 percent of the totally yearly flow. When river flows are high, these conditions can reverse and river water seeps into the aquifer becoming groundwater.

Myth: In the Miami Valley, rivers are the most important source of water supply

Fact: If you live in the Miami Valley, chances are high that your drinking water comes from groundwater. According to Ohio Department of Natural Resources, groundwater resources in the Great Miami River Watershed supplied people with 91.6 billion gallons of water in 2016. In comparison, surface water use was a mere 9.8 billion gallons.

Here are a few things you can do to ensure your family’s health and protect our region’s groundwater:

  • If you own a well, get your drinking water tested. Learn more about what tests to consider and where to get help.
  • Find out if your community uses groundwater as its source of drinking water. If it does, encourage community officials to develop and implement a source water protection plan to ensure a safe drinking water supply.

Source: MCD and the National Groundwater Association

 

 

2017 IN REVIEW: ANOTHER WET YEAR

By Mike Ekberg, manager for water monitoring and analysis

Last year was a wet one for the Miami Valley region, continuing a trend we’ve been seeing for a while now. The chart below shows how the 30-year average annual precipitation for the Great Miami River has changed since 1945. Note the upward trend, especially since about 1995.

Fig 6 30-yr Mean Precipitation

Noteworthy Weather

Notable weather came through our region in 2017, including a very warm February, outbreaks of severe weather in March and May; intense thunderstorms and localized flash flooding in July, a solar eclipse in August, and a cold December. By the end of December, La Niña conditions had developed in the Pacific Ocean, promising to influence the weather we are getting in 2018.

Precipitation for 2017 was well above average for communities across the Great Miami River Watershed at 48.27 inches. This is almost 8 inches above the 30-year (1981–2010) average annual precipitation of just 40.30 inches. One of the Miami Conservancy District (MCD) observation stations in Dayton recorded 46.28 inches of precipitation, the 18th highest since records began to be kept in 1883.

Monthly precipitation was significantly above average in March, May, June, July, October, and November. The months of February, August, September, and December were drier than normal. No record highs or lows were set in 2017.

Fig 5 Max and Min Precipitation Bar Graph

More high water events but only one in the Top 100

Above average precipitation led to above average runoff in 2017. Runoff is the portion of precipitation which flows downhill and enters streams, rivers, lakes or ponds. Annual runoff for the Great Miami River was 19.12 inches, which is 4.55 inches above average.

MCD recorded 16 high water events in 2017 – well above the annual 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 the MCD Emergency Action Plan.

The largest high water event in 2017 took place from May 4–10 and resulted in peak storage of 30,500 acre-feet (9.9 billion gallons) of water behind MCD dams. All of the dams except Huffman were storing floodwaters.This event ranked as the 60th largest high water event in MCD history.

All in all, 2017 was a continuation of the rising trend in precipitation for our region. What can we expect in the future? If the trend continues, more rain, more runoff, and more high water events.

 

 

Refreshing, replenishing…and our responsiblity

There’s nothing like a tall, cool glass of water when you’re hot and thirsty (despite this week’s cold, you will be hot again). But, do you know where your drinking water comes from?

If you live in the Miami Valley, chances are your water comes from the buried valley aquifer.

When it comes to water, our region’s buried valley aquifer is truly world class.

The buried valley aquifer:

  • Is the sole source of drinking water for 2.3 million people in our region.
  • Has water that typically is much cleaner than water in local rivers and streams because the sand and gravel in the aquifer act as a natural filter, removing contaminants.
  • Can yield as much as 3,000 gallons of water per minute in some wells.
  • Provides water for :
    • Industry, including the production of beer, pharmaceuticals and steel among other products.
    • Food production.
    • Crop irrigation.
    • Geothermal energy.
    • Sand and gravel aggregate for construction.
  • Consists of sand and gravel material deposited by rivers draining melting glaciers that disappeared from our region about 18,000 years ago.

Plentiful but vulnerable

Some of the reasons the buried valley aquifer is a good source of drinking water also make it vulnerable to contamination. Once an aquifer becomes polluted, it’s very difficult and expensive to clean up.

  • Because the aquifer is so porous, chemicals that are applied or spilled on the land can seep into the groundwater.
  • The water in rivers and streams helps recharge the aquifer at times, but can also provide a way for contamination to interact with groundwater.

That’s why it’s so important to prevent contamination. Here are a few suggestions from the Groundwater Foundation how you can help protect our region’s aquifer:

Reduce Chemical Use – Use fewer chemicals around your home and yard. Dispose of them properly. Don’t pour them on the ground or down the storm drain.

Manage Waste – Properly dispose of potentially toxic substances like unused chemicals, pharmaceuticals, paint, motor oil, and other substances. Many communities hold household hazardous waste collections or sites. Contact your local solid waste district to find one near you.

Use Natural Alternatives – Use all natural/nontoxic household cleaners whenever possible. Materials such as lemon juice, baking soda, and vinegar make great cleaning products, are inexpensive, and aquifer-friendly.