A life jacket is a life saver

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

Some people have plenty of excuses why they don’t wear a life jacket when paddling or boating, but there’s not a single good reason.

According to a recent report from the U.S. Coast Guard:

• Drowning was reported as the cause of death in 79 percent of all boating fatalities.
• Approximately 86 percent of those who drowned were not wearing life jackets.

Graphic of the Wear It life jacket

Life jacket excuses

I don’t need a lifejacket; I’m a good swimmer.
The fact is that two-thirds of drowning victims are good swimmers.

I don’t need to wear one in my kayak–only when I am in a big boat.
In a kayak or canoe you may run into low-hanging branches or submerged objects, which can cause you to turn over and fall in. You don’t want to be without a lifejacket if that happens.

I have life jackets on board the boat.
That’s nice, but have you ever tried to put a life jacket on as your boat capsizes or overturns? That’s like trying to put on your seatbelt during a car accident. 

Life jackets get in the way. They are too hot and too uncomfortable.
That’s not true anymore! Today, they come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors and materials. They are much more comfortable and light weight. There are even inflatable life jackets which offer a comfortable alternative to traditional life jackets. They provide range of motion and are cooler to wear in warmer weather.

Nothing is ever going to happen to me.
We hope not. Please don’t risk the pain and grief you would cause your family and friends because you were too stubborn/lazy/cool to #WearIt?

Graphic showing which life jacket is right for you

Life jacket tips
Keep these tips in mind when buying and using your life jacket.

  • Make sure your life jacket is U.S. Coast Guard approved.
  • Double check that your life jacket is appropriate for your favorite water activities. Read the label!
  • Take the time to ensure a proper fit. A life jacket that is too large or too small can cause problems.
  • Check that your life jacket is in good condition, with no tears or holes.
  • If you are boating with children, make sure they are wearing properly fitted, child-sized life jackets based on their weight. Life jackets meant for adult-sized people do not work for children. Do not buy a life jacket for your child to “grow into.”

Boating safety tips
Wearing a life jacket is one of the best ways to ensure a fun and safe day on the water. Here are a few others:

  • Check the weather, including the water temperature. Know the latest marine weather forecast prior to going out, and keep a regular check for changing conditions.
  • Dress properly. Always dress for the weather, wearing layers if cooler weather, and bring an extra set of clothes in case you get wet.
  • Always file a float plan. File a float plan with someone you trust that includes details about the trip, boat, persons, towing or trailer vehicle, communication equipment and emergency contacts. Find out more at floatplancentral.org.
  • Don’t drink while you boat. Where the primary cause was known, alcohol was listed as a leading factor in boating-related deaths. Find out more at operationdrywater.org.

The Great Miami, Stillwater, and Mad rivers offer many paddling, rowing, and power boating opportunities. Our water trail maps take you to public access sites. And be sure to review the safety tips on the back of our maps.

A little preparation can go a long way in creating paddling adventures and memories.

National Safe Boating Week is May 22-28

Cold-water immersion a springtime danger, too

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

Many people think about the dangers of cold-water immersion when the temperatures begin to turn cooler in the fall. But springtime can create a false sense of security because while the air may be warm, the water may not be. And if you capsize, the “cold shock” can lead to drowning.

Cold Shock
Falling into cold water can cause your body to react in a few ways:

Gasping for breath and rapid breathing. Oftentimes when someone falls in a river or lake, the cold water can cause an involuntary gasping reflex, leading to a drowning emergency. It can also create rapid breathing and hyperventilation.

Heart and blood pressure problems. Cold water can cause your heart rate and blood pressure to spike, increasing the chance for heart failure or stroke in some people.

Cognitive impairment. The shock of the cold water can create panic for some. The fear and stress can keep you from thinking clearly and making good decisions. The longer you’re in the water, the greater the chance of hypothermia, which can further reduce your decision-making abilities.

Keep in mind that the water doesn’t have to be super cold to trigger cold shock. Gasping for a breath or rapid breathing from sudden immersion can be triggered by water as warm at 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Be Prepared
Follow these other safety tips to protect yourself when paddling.

  • Always wear your life jacket.
  • Dress for the water temperature, not the air temperatures.
  • Wear a wet suit or dry suit if the air temperature is at or below 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Always file a float plan with someone you trust.

Physical Incapacitation
Once you’ve been immersed in cold water for several minutes, you may have a loss of muscular control in your arms, hands, legs and feet. Losing the ability to use your hands and feet make self-rescue more challenging. Loss of muscular control could make it more difficult to keep your head above water. If you’re not wearing a life jacket, your chance of survival becomes minimal.

Beyond the initial cold shock, after the first one to three minutes of immersion, a person’s body temperature will continue to drop. Hypothermia begins to set in at a body temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit, increasing the risk of drowning. Your body temperature can continue to drop even after you’re out of the water, so be sure to find a warm, dry place.

Wear It!
Want to give yourself a fighting chance in a cold-water immersion or any other emergency situation on the water? Wear your life jacket! It significantly increases your chances of survival.

Review our river maps and more safety tips

Get the water data info you want

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

Whether you’re just curious and want to know how much rain fell in the Miami Valley region over the past 24 hours. Or you’re an engineer who needs to know the highest river level for infrastructure design. Or you’re a hydrologist needing groundwater levels for a modeling study. MCD’s new water data portal is your go-to spot.

With the water data portal, you can check how much rain has fallen at various stations throughout the watershed like this example from March 2020. Choose from 24-hour, seven-day, 30-day totals and more.

Powered by Aquatic Informatics
To create an easy-to-access portal to all our water data, MCD contracted with Aquatic Informatics, a cloud-based water information management system. MCD staff can now upload water data—measured in the field and throughout the region—directly to the Internet.

MCD staff also performs quality assurance and quality control checks when needed to ensure the data is as accurate as possible. Relevant information can also be extracted and displayed from other agencies, such as the U.S. Geological Survey.
Featuring data dashboards
With the portal, you can view data dashboards like this one for viewing up-to-the-hour information on river conditions.

This particular data dashboard provides current river flow data. When you see these dials, you’ll be viewing the latest stream flow measurement at a particular location (in this case, Troy with a stream flow of 669 cubic feet per second). The dial goes up to 78,000 cubic feet per second which is the capacity of the river channel at Troy.

Who uses water data
The portal can provide data based on a variety of needs. For example:

  • A paddler planning a trip on the Great Miami River might want to check river temperature.
  • A water utility manager might be interested in how much rain fell during a particular month to assist with compliance monitoring.
  • An engineer might want to know highest the river level or flow at a particular gage during a recent event for designing a bridge.  
  • A hydrologist or environmental consultant might be interested in recent groundwater levels measured in a particular area for a groundwater modeling study.  
  • A scientist doing research might be interested in nutrient concentrations measured in the Great Miami River for a water quality study.

Customized charts
If you’re looking for specific information, you can also view data in customized charts. The chart below shows measured depths to water at an MCD observation well in downtown Dayton at RiverScape MetroPark.

And more …
For those looking for even more in-depth information, the water data portal also allows users to view locations of water data collection stations, export data from those stations, and view statistical displays of station data in a map environment. The portal’s data analytics will continue to grow as technology in this cloud-based system continues to advance.

Data analytics and water data
This is an exciting time for people interested in—and professionals who work with—water data. More and more, we can now capture and share water data in ways that help you better understand water quality and quantity trends.

Hopefully, this information also will assist our regional leaders as they work to make wise decisions regarding the stewardship of our natural water resources.

MCD dams storing water more often than ever before

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

MCD flood protection dams are storing water more often than at any other time since the dams were completed almost 100 years ago. That’s because the Miami Valley’s climate is getting wetter. Can the flood protection dams handle more rain?

A rising 30-year average precipitation
Average annual precipitation in the Miami Valley for the 30-year period of 1951 to 1980 was about 37 inches a year. Average precipitation for the last 30 years (1991 – 2020) has climbed to almost 42 inches a year—a nearly 14 percent Increase.

Average precipitation increased for every month except August. Average precipitation for the months of January, April, May, June, July, September, October, November, and December increased by more than 10 percent. October showed the largest increase in average precipitation—more than 30 percent.

With increased precipitation comes increased runoff and higher river flows. When river flows become high enough to be a flood threat, our flood protection dams go into action and begin to store water. When any one or more of our dams begin to store water, we call that a “storage event.” Storage events at each of the dams are recorded separately. So if all five dams are in storage at the same time, it is counted as five storage events. The storage event ends at each dam when that dam is no longer holding back any water.
Waters stored behind dams more frequently
MCD tracks the number of storage events that occur each year. The following chart shows the number of storage events that have occurred during each full decade since the dams were completed in 1922. You can see how the number of storage events has climbed throughout the decades of the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. Prior to the 1990s, no single decade had more than 200 storage events. The number of storage events in the last three decades all exceeded 200, and storage events for the decade of the 2010s exceeded 300.  

More frequent large storage events
Increasing frequency of storage events at MCD dams is one thing. What about the size of those storage events?

The answer seems to fall in line with simple odds. All other things being equal, the more storage events there are, the greater the chance of having really large events.

We rank storage events based upon the total storage volume of water held behind our five dams. The following chart shows the number of events by decade that rank in the top 100 largest storage events. You can see that 32 of the top 100 largest events took place in the last 20 years. The decades of the 2000s and 2010s each had 16 storage events that ranked in the top 100. Only the 1950s comes close to this number. That decade produced the largest storage event since the MCD flood protection system was built—the January 1959 event.

MCD flood protection system is resilient
The climate of the Miami Valley is changing and getting wetter. Flood risk is increasing. Fortunately, the MCD flood protection system is well designed to respond to these changing conditions in the Miami Valley.

The system was designed to withstand a very large event—the 1913 flood event plus 40 percent more runoff (which is the equivalent of 11-14 inches of rain over three days). The January 1959 event was the largest storage event since the completion of the flood protection dams. The 44.8 billion gallons of floodwater the dams held back used only 16 percent of the five dams’ total storage capacity. That means 84 percent of the capacity has never been used but is there if we need it.

The MCD flood protection system is resilient—based on design, capacity and performance. Resiliency is a good thing to have in a rapidly changing world.

Learn more about the flood protection system.

2020 Precipitation: Up, Down and All Around

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

Note: At MCD, we track water movement into and out of Great Miami River Watershed over long periods of time, spanning decades. The records generated by our observer precipitation stations, stream gages, and observation wells allow MCD staff to examine long-term trends in water resources. Water enters the watershed as precipitation (rain, sleet, hail, and snow), and it exits the watershed through evaporation, plant transpiration, and runoff.

2020 will go down in history as anything but a normal year. And that goes for our region’s precipitation, too.

The Great Miami River Watershed started the year wet, with four of the first five months experiencing above-average precipitation. And then the tide turned, and the watershed saw drier-than-normal conditions for five of the last seven months.

Drought conditions existed in parts of the watershed from early July until mid-August and returned to parts of the watershed in mid-September, lingering until late October. October was uncharacteristically wet, averaging 5.02 inches of precipitation or 2.06 inches above average.

Despite the many drier months, total precipitation for the year was 2.26 inches above normal for a total of 42.56 inches, continuing a long-term trend of increased annual average precipitation.

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

Average Annual Precipitation Increasing

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

This graph shows the moving average 30-year precipitation for the Great Miami River Watershed.


The higher-than-average amounts of precipitation in 2020 led to above-average runoff. Runoff is that portion of precipitation which ultimately ends up in the Great Miami River. Annual runoff for the Great Miami River was 16.01 inches in 2020—1.4 inches above average.

Two High-Water Events in the Top 100

MCD recorded 12 high-water events last year—well above the average of eight. MCD defines a high-water event as a time when one or more of the following occurs:

  • Any one of MCD’s five flood protection dams goes into storage—when the conduits slow the flow of water. This is approximately when the conduits are flowing full.
  • The Great Miami River in any one of the 10 cities MCD’s system protects reaches an action stage as defined by MCD’s Emergency Action plan.

The largest high-water event in 2020 took place from May 19-23 when all five MCD dams together stored a peak of 9.2 billion gallons (28,200 acre-feet) of water. This event ranked as the 69th largest high-water event in MCD history. MCD also recorded its 96th largest event in 2020.

While no monthly or annual records were set in 2020, we did experience two top 100 high-water events. The above-average total precipitation and runoff as well as the higher-than-average high-water events continue to provide evidence of a changing climate in southwest Ohio. A climate that seems to be getting wetter with time.

Got Water Info?

Whether you’re looking to learn more about the region’s water or searching for specific water information, the answers may be a click away.

Miami Conservancy District (MCD) offers easy-to-access fact sheets, videos, live water data, reports and infographics—all about water—on our website www.mcdwater.org. We have resources for river users, well owners, scientists, city/county staff, and someone just learning about rivers and groundwater.

Are you local government staff or an elected official? Read case studies of how MCD has helped cities, counties, and other organizations.

Are you a scientist looking for in-depth research studies and reports? We track and report on groundwater quality and quantity, nutrient and biological conditions in rivers, and other water trends.

Are you a private well owner looking for information and guidance about testing your well? We help sponsor Test Your Well events and provide testing information. (Please test your well regularly.)

Looking for specific details on rivers and their condition? You can download infographics about the major rivers and streams in our region and their conditions. You can also access live data on rivers and groundwater

Interested in recreation and want to know if the water is safe? Find out more about bacteria levels and high-water levels by clicking here and here.

Read about 10  easy things you can do around your home or business to protect our region’s water resources. 

Want to become actively involved with water? Try volunteering for the annual river trash clean-up days and attend the quarterly meeting of water stakeholders.

And don’t forget our 2-minute videos about our region’s water. Share them with your friends and family!

Our Region’s Water – What it means for our health and our economy

Where do we get our water from in the Miami Valley?

Changing Weather Patterns – What you need to know for the future

Be Water Wise – Things you can do to protect our Rivers and Streams 

You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for current news.

Let us help you access the information you need/want whether you’re just beginning to take an interest in water or are a water expert.

Happy New Year!

Dam concrete repair necessary to ensure future performance

By Don O’Connor, P.E., chief of construction and planning

MCD is committed to keeping the dams and other flood protection structures operating safely and properly for your protection. To that end, we are nearing completion on a $2.61 million project to improve concrete at Lockington Dam. Over the last 13 months, MCD’s contractor has removed and rebuilt up to 15 feet of concrete on top of the dam’s upstream and downstream right bank wall as well as repaired concrete on the face of the wall.

This project was necessary. While there was little danger that the wall might fail during a high-water event, there was significant deterioration. Had we waited another 10 or 20 years, the extent of damage would have been more severe and much more expensive to repair. Addressing this rehabilitation in a timely manner is financially responsible. And it could be dangerous if put off for too long.

Over the last 13 months, MCD’s contractor has removed up to 15 feet of concrete on top of the Lockington Dam upstream and downstream right bank wall and repaired concrete on the face of the wall.

Freeze/thaw cycles damaged the concrete

Over the decades, water has seeped into the walls through joints and cracks. That water has been a destructive force because of the innumerable freeze/thaw cycles that caused the water to expand and turn into ice. This caused extensive damage to the outer surface of the concrete walls.

The last significant concrete repair at Lockington and the other four flood protection dams took place in the 1970s with a material called shotcrete. The shotcrete repaired the previous surface deterioration, but the freeze/thaw cycles eventually damaged the material and caused some of it to detach from the walls. The Lockington Dam shotcrete was beyond its useful life and needed to be replaced.

With the current repair, MCD’s contractor also installed an underground drain system behind the concrete wall to keep rainwater and snowmelt from seeping into the wall joints. The drains are designed to help prevent the damage caused by the freeze/thaw cycles.

The repair work at Lockington Dam is the first in a series of projects MCD
will need to complete at its dams.

More work to come

Concrete repair at Lockington Dam is the first of many concrete projects to come. MCD is planning additional work at Lockington Dam along the left wall. Each of the dams will likely need similar work. Studies are planned for the other four dams to determine the extent of repairs needed and to prioritize work for future projects.

The right-wall project at Lockington was the culmination of years of work and monitoring. MCD frequently inspects its dams. Those inspections began to show a need for more detailed investigation/structural analysis. That analysis helped MCD understand the scope of work needed at the dam, leading to the design and construction.

These kinds of projects are years in the making. But it’s important we take the time to follow a logical process, determine the need, and complete it as cost-effectively as possible.

Don O’Connor is MCD’s chief of construction and planning. He joined MCD in 2018 and is a licensed professional engineer.

What Will 2020-2021 Winter Bring?

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

It’s the beginning of November and winter is just around the corner. What kind of a winter can we expect in the Miami Valley this year? 

Winter 2020–2021 might be wetter than normal with frequent storm events tracking across our region. Wetter than normal means above-average winter precipitation, including rain, sleet, and snow. One factor that favors this outcome is the forecasted presence of a strong La Niña pattern in the tropical Pacific Ocean this winter.
Credit – https://sites.google.com/site/elninoandlanina/la-nina
La Niña present in the tropical Pacific Ocean
La Niña is an atmospheric pattern characterized by stronger-than-normal trade winds and cooler-than-normal ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific Ocean. These conditions are currently present, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is forecasting this pattern to persist and strengthen as we move through the winter months.

How does an atmospheric phenomenon such as La Niña thousands of miles away in the tropical Pacific Ocean influence winter weather in the Miami Valley?
Credit – https://www.climate.gov/news-features/blogs/enso/september-2020-enso-update-la-ni%C3%B1a-here
Wetter-than-normal winter conditions favored in the Miami Valley
The answer lies in La Niña’s influence on the position of the polar jet stream across North America. According to the National Weather Service, jet streams are narrow bands of strong wind in the upper atmosphere that blow from west to east. The polar jet stream often marks the boundary between cold and warm air masses across North America, and it often acts as a transport mechanism for storm systems across the United States. La Niñas tend to cause the polar jet stream to dip south over the Midwest and the Ohio Valley. This creates favorable conditions for winter storm systems to track across this region. The result is lots of moisture delivery, leading to above-average precipitation.

So there you have it, we can bank on a wetter–than-normal winter this year, correct? Not so fast, La Niña is just one of many factors impacting winters in the Miami Valley.
La Niña can lead to above-average precipitation in winter.
Other factors influence local weather, too
La Niña events tend to be persistent, lasting six to 18 months. There are other global atmospheric circulation patterns or teleconnections such as the Pacific/North American (PNA), Arctic Oscillation (AO), and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) which fluctuate on shorter time scales. These teleconnections also influence the path of the jet stream across the United States and may interact with La Niña amplifying or canceling out its impact. Predicting these teleconnections patterns can be difficult.

Local factors such as soil moisture conditions and snow cover can also influence winter precipitation in the Miami Valley. Long-term climate trends may also play a role.

Obviously, there is a lot of uncertainty when it comes to making predictions about how winter 2020–2021 will turn out. Still, it’s fun to look at all the factors and give it a shot!

MCD ready to respond no matter what winter 2020-2021 brings
No matter what this winter brings, there is one thing the Miami Valley region can count on. MCD is ready to respond to whatever weather comes our way. The MCD flood protection system has been in place for nearly 100 years, significantly reducing flooding risk in cities along the Great Miami River. If this winter turns out to be wetter than normal as predicted, MCD will be ready to respond.

Earn your Water Diploma – Enroll at Great Miami U!

Win a gift card to your favorite local brewery or coffee shop

At most universities you pay to learn. At Great Miami U, we’ll pay you (if we pick your name in a drawing of all our graduates). Earning your degree from Great Miami U is free and easy. And better yet, it only takes a few minutes!

The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) is launching the Great Miami Watershed University, or Great Miami U, today as part of the national Value Water campaign to raise awareness about the importance of water and the often invisible water challenges facing our country.

We’re fortunate in this region to have plenty of water. You turn on the faucet and water comes out. It’s hard not to take water for granted when it’s always there for us. But how much do you really know about the region’s water? We’ve got the basics ready for you in a new and fun way to learn.

You can earn your diploma in three easy steps.

  1. Click here to get started.
  2. Watch four 2-minute videos about water.
  3. Take a 4-question exam to test your knowledge.

You will then be registered to win a $100 gift card to the local brewery or coffee shop of our choice. We’ll even email you a diploma to print.

EARN A BONUS CHANCE TO WIN – Take a photo of yourself with your diploma and post to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #GreatMiamiU and we’ll enter you a second time.


Do a little (septic system maintenance) to save a lot!

By Mike Ekberg, manager for water resources monitoring and analysis

If you could spend less than $100 a year to avoid a $7,000 home repair expense, you’d do it wouldn’t you?

Consider this: It only costs about $250 to $500 every three to five years to maintain a septic system. But it can cost up to $7,000 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.

Do you have a septic system? You probably do 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. 14-18. It’s a good time to have your system maintained and review ways to keep your system working well.

Maintain 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.
  • View these SepticSmart Week Quick Tip videos on the importance of properly using and maintaining your septic system.

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