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.

 

Water — It’s time to make it personal 

By Sarah Hippensteel Hall, manager for watershed partnerships

You turn the on the faucet and good quality water comes out it, right? But what if it didn’t?

Imagine a day without water. In the first hour alone, you couldn’t flush the toilet, brush your teeth, take a shower or make a cup of coffee. Beyond your personal needs, firefighters couldn’t save your house or business, medical staff couldn’t treat you with clean hands. Businesses would be forced to close, and the economy would grind to a halt.

Try living without water for a day – or even half a day. Life becomes a major struggle.

We don’t give water a thought, but it’s time we did. We need to make water a priority in our lives and in our communities.

Did you know?

  • 46 percent of US lakes and 43 percent of US rivers are polluted and unsafe for swimming or fishing.
  • Around the world, 1 of 5 children that dies under the age of 5 does so from exposure to polluted water.
  • And by 2025, 3.5 billion people will be facing water shortages.

 

 

Threats to water

Water can be threatened when pollution from cities, farms, and industry runs off the land and into rivers and lakes or drains down into the groundwater. The City of Toledo had no access to safe drinking water when toxins were sucked out of Lake Erie and sent into the drinking water supply chain.

The other challenge to safe water is the notion of “out of sight, out of mind.” Water and wastewater systems are large, hidden infrastructure systems that ensure we are able to go about our daily routines without a second thought. They work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year to bring clean, safe water to us and take it away after we use it to be treated before it is safely released back into the environment. Unlike potholes on roads, these systems – many of which were built more than 100 years ago – don’t show their age as easily. But a broken water system is absolutely devastating.

 

 

Living without drinking water across the US

The City of Flint, Michigan experienced how terrible life is without safe, reliable water when lead was found at unhealthy levels. Beach goers along the Great Lakes are accustomed to seeing beach closure signs because untreated-sewage overflows make water unsafe for swimming, and local lakes have tested positive for toxic algae.

Residents from South Carolina to West Virginia to Texas have lost water and wastewater service because of terrible flooding in the last several years. There’s been a humanitarian crisis going on in Puerto Rico after a devastating hurricane earlier this year. These communities know that a day without water is a crisis.

If we are lucky, we won’t see these kinds of challenges, but we can’t count on luck. We need to take action. You don’t need to be a water expert – you just need to be a water advocate. Making water a priority means:

  • Supporting spending to fix the problems.
  • Strengthening laws that protect our water.
  • Voting for people who care about your life and your health and will do anything to protect the one thing we can’t live without: Water.

 

 

More than just an environmental issue

Water is not just an environmental issue.

It’s an economic issue.

It’s a jobs issue.

It’s a health issue.

Someday, it may be a national security issue.

So what is water worth to you? And what are you willing to do to protect it? It’s time to make it personal.

Note: MCD recently joined 750 organizations to promote the annual Imagine a Day Without Water Day. Together these groups hosted tours and open houses, wrote blogs and op-eds, issued resolutions, posted videos and more. Social media activities generated more than 6 million impressions using #ValueWater. Locally, we participated in four, live interviews on FOX45’s morning show and posted daily on social media.

Well owners — is your water safe to drink?

By Mike Ekberg, Manager for Water Resources Monitoring and Analysis

Hey well owners, when’s the last time you had your drinking water tested? If you’re like many well owners in the United States, you probably have never tested your water. Why should you bother? You have plenty of water and it tastes good, right?

If you want to be sure your drinking water is safe, you need to get it tested.

Test at least annually
The National Ground Water Association (NGWA) recommends well owners test their water at least annually for bacteria, nitrates, and contaminants specific to your area. Consider more frequent testing if:
• There is a change in taste, odor, or appearance of well water.
• The well has a history of contamination.
• The well is near a septic system.
• There have been recurring incidents of gastrointestinal illness.
• An infant is living in the home.
• Home water treatment equipment has been installed.

In our area, I recommend the following tests:
E. coli – E. coli bacteria is a specific indication of fecal contamination in the well. Its presence is a warning that disease-causing bacteria may have entered the well.

Nitrate – Nitrate gets into drinking water from fertilizers, manure, and septic systems. It also occurs naturally. High nitrate levels present a health concern for infants if the water is mixed with formula. High nitrate levels can also suggest other toxins such as bacteria and pesticides.

Arsenic – Arsenic is naturally occurring in groundwater. It’s linked to various cancers and other health issues.

Manganese – Manganese also occurs in nature and can be present in groundwater. At high enough levels, it may cause brain damage.

Lead – Lead typically gets into drinking water from corroded pipes and plumbing fixtures. If your home was built prior to 1986, it’s more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures, and solder.

To help you get started, MCD partners with various counties and soil and water conservation districts to offer free, confidential well water sampling for nitrates, nitrites, and iron through Test Your Well events.

Get your water sampled this month
Miami County residents can attend on Monday, Nov. 13, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Miami East High School cafeteria, 3925 N. State Route 589 in Casstown. Enter door #12 with parking on the east side.

Montgomery County residents can attend on Tuesday, Nov. 14, from 4 to 6 p.m. Montgomery County Environmental Lab 4257 Dryden Road, Moraine, OH 45439

Find a testing lab and view more resources

How much rainfall can MCD dams and levees handle?

By Kurt Rinehart, MCD Chief Engineer

With the heavy rains of recent hurricanes, especially Hurricane Harvey’s 50 inches, people are wondering how much precipitation can the MCD flood protection system handle?

The system is designed for the greatest reasonably expected storm but not the largest scientifically possible storm. In other words, the system is designed to handle more rain than the region has ever seen but not as much as meteorologists and scientists predict could occur in a worst-case scenario.

The 1913 Flood brought 9 to 11 inches of rain in three days across the entire 4,000-square-mile Great Miami River Watershed.

What the flood protection system is designed to handle

MCD’s integrated system of five dry dams, 55 miles of levee and acres of preserved floodplain is designed to withstand a storm the size of the 1913 flood plus another 40 percent. Eight to 11 inches of rain fell over the 4,000-square-mile watershed in three days in March of 1913. So the flood protection system is designed to handle about 14 inches of rainfall across the watershed over a three-day period.

The two largest high-water events since the 1913 flood were in 1959 and 2005. In 1959, 4 to 6 inches of rain fell between January 19 and 21. In January 2005, we saw 7 to 10 inches of rain in 14 days, plus another 1.5 inches of precipitation in snowmelt from a 15-inch snowstorm in December.

In both of those events, there was still plenty of capacity in the retarding basins behind the dams. In the 1959 event, floodwaters filled 32 percent of Germantown Dam’s retarding basin. That’s the most any dam has ever held.

Based on those numbers, there nothing to worry about, you might think. Which is true. Kind of.

A study commissioned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in 2013 predicts in an absolute worst-case scenario storm, this region would receive 16 inches of precipitation over the entire watershed in three days. The dams could hold the floodwaters but the levees likely would be overtopped.

Biggest storm possible

A study commissioned by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources in 2013 predicts in an absolute worst-case scenario storm, this region would receive 16 inches of precipitation over the entire watershed in three days. This is the most extreme scientifically possible event for our region.

If that were to happen, the dams could hold the floodwaters but the levees could be overtopped and flood the cities.

Maintenance and reinvestment are key

The cost-benefit ratio doesn’t allow for us to build a system large enough to handle a worst-case scenario. It doesn’t make financial sense to build for a storm that in all likelihood will never happen. But it is crucial that we continue to maintain our system to handle the smaller storms that could still flood our cities if we didn’t have a working flood protection system.

That’s why maintenance, reinvestment and preparation are key. Our dams and levees are nearly 100 years old. Fortunately, MCD has worked hard to maintain the structures over the last century.

More recently, MCD’s capital improvement project, called the Dam Safety Initiative, addressed potential seepage issues in the foundations and the crests of the dams. We also repaired and replaced concrete floodwalls and revetment. More repairs and investment, however, are needed in the coming years to ensure the dams and levees continue to protect our riverfront communities.

Low levels of artificial sweeteners present in the aquifer, but what’s safe?

By Mike Ekberg, MCD manager for water resources monitoring and analysis

MCD staff recently found artificial sweeteners in five of 12 groundwater samples. The samples were collected from monitoring wells installed in the buried valley aquifer. This is further proof that many of the chemicals we flush down a toilet, rinse down a sink, or apply to our lawns and gardens ultimately end up in our rivers, streams, and aquifers.

It should be noted that none of the wells sampled in the study are used for drinking water. MCD uses its monitoring wells in the buried valley aquifer to act as a network of sentinels. Samples from the wells provide information on human impacts as well as natural changes in the quality of water over time.

MCD found artificial sweeteners in several groundwater samples (in monitoring wells, not drinking water wells), providing further proof that what we flush down the toilet and rinse down the sink makes its way to our rivers, streams and aquifers.

Artificial sweeteners in groundwater is a concern for two reasons: First, their presence is an indication that human sewage is flowing into the aquifer. Human sewage contains low levels of many contaminants that pass through the sewage treatment process and enter into natural waters. Second, artificial sweeteners are considered to be potential endocrine disruptors because they may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and harm people and animals.

The endocrine system is a chemical messaging system within the human body that regulates organ function. Fortunately, the artificial sweeteners were present in the groundwater at very low concentrations – parts per trillion.

These “endocrine disruptors.” as they are known, are present in many products we use every day, including plastic bottles, detergents, flame retardants, cosmetics, and pesticides. Among the other chemicals MCD found in the samples were:

  • Bisphenol A (BPA), a compound found in plastics.
  • DEET, an active ingredient in insect repellant.
  • The herbicides atrazine, metolachlor, simazine, and sulfometuron methyl.
  • Meclofenamic acid, a drug used for joint and muscular pain and arthritis.
  • Propylparaben, an ingredient in many cosmetics.

BPA is becoming a big concern because human exposure to the compound is widespread. Some animal studies report effects on fetuses and newborns exposed to BPA.

None of the chemicals found exceeded any human health-based standards. The jury is still out, however, on what the standards should be for some of these chemicals. It’s possible that new standards will be set once we better understand how these chemicals affect the human body.

If we want clean, safe water, we may need to support investments in advanced water treatment technologies to remove potentially harmful compounds from water.

 

Use green development to save money and energy

By Sarah Hippensteel Hall, Ph.D., Manager for Watershed Partnerships

Last month we discussed how green development can reduce flooding, save money, reduce energy use, and improve public health. This month we want to key in on a few of the more popular green development practices and their incentives.

Rain gardens filter out pollutants and allow about 30 percent more water to soak into the ground than a patch of lawn.

Rain gardens filter out pollutants

Studies show that up to 70 percent of the pollution in our streams and rivers is carried there by stormwater. Rain gardens help filter out stormwater pollution before it flows into streams and rivers.

Rain gardens:

  • Feature attractive landscaping with perennial native plants.
  • Are designed to absorb stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces such as roofs and parking lots.
  • Allow water to slowly filter into the ground rather than run off to storm drains.
  • Allow about 30 percent more water to soak into the ground compared to a patch of lawn.
  • Come in a variety of sizes from small or large home-owner style gardens to complex bioretention gardens, and anything in between.
  • Can be bowl-shaped or saucer-shaped gardens.

Rain gardens are particularly effective at reducing solids and nutrients – like nitrogen and phosphorus – in stormwater runoff from residential yards and parking lots. Research done by the Center for Watershed Protection found that bioretention facilities installed in parking lots reduced total phosphorous in runoff by 65 percent, total nitrogen by 49 percent, and metals by 95-97 percent.

MCD helped install rain gardens in several locations to demonstrate their effectiveness:

  • City of Springfield
  • City of Brookville Wenger Woods neighborhood
  • Heritage Park in Hamilton County
  • Preble County Historical Society

Pavers last decades longer than traditional asphalt and concrete driveways.

Pervious pavers absorb rain and snow

Pervious pavers are an alternative to a traditional asphalt or concrete driveway.

When stormwater flows over lawns and concrete driveways, it can carry with it chemicals, fertilizers, sediment and oils, which can degrade the quality of water running into storm sewers. Pervious pavers help slow polluted stormwater runoff, allowing the water to soak into the aquifer instead of flowing off the land and into rivers and streams.

Paver driveways and walkways allow rain and snowmelt to soak through the cracks between each paver so that water doesn’t pond during a rainstorm, and ice doesn’t form in the winter.

While concrete or asphalt surfaces may require a lower initial investment, paver systems are known to last decades longer. They also require little maintenance because they aren’t prone to cracking. When pavers need repaired, only the damaged section needs to be replaced, not the entire surface.

MCD uses pervious pavers to increase infiltration and slow runoff at its headquarters building in downtown Dayton. MCD also helped install pervious pavers at several homes in the City of Brookville’s Wenger Woods neighborhood.

Green roofs have been widely used in Europe for centuries but are still catching on in the U.S.

Green roofs mitigate heat and improve air quality

Green roofs, which are made from natural plant material, have natural thermal insulation properties that keep structures cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Green roofs are a layer of light weight vegetation that is installed over a roof membrane. They offer features and benefits not present in a conventional membrane roof such as:

  • The vegetation and soil layers protect the waterproof membrane from solar exposure, prolonging roof membrane life.
  • The soil provides additional insulation and shades the roof from solar heat gain.
  • Environmental benefits – including stormwater filtration, heat island mitigation, improved air quality and increased wildlife habitat.

Green roofs have been used in Europe for centuries, but are still catching on in popularity here. They are particularly cost-effective:

  • In dense urban areas where land values are high.
  • On large industrial or office buildings where stormwater management costs are likely to be high.

MCD helped install green roofs on several modular homes in the Canal Block Litehouse Development in downtown Dayton. Green roofs are also in use on top of Dayton’s city hall building and Springfield Regional Medical Center.

How you can help

Your community can encourage the installation of green practices – like the three listed above – by updating your development policies to encourage builders to think green.

An easy way to get started is to host a Site Planning Roundtable that brings together local leaders from government, development, and natural resources. MCD staff can, in partnership with local sponsors, assist communities during all phases of the Site Planning Roundtable. Call me at 937-223-1278 ext. 3244 and let’s get started!