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.

 

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