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”

PFAS Part III — Strategies

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

In Part I, we looked at what per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, or PFAS, are and why you should care. In Part II, we looked at their presence in local drinking water. In this final post, we look at the strategies for dealing with PFAS.

Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances or PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals widely used in consumer products such as cookware, paper wrappers for fast food, stain repellants, and fire-fighting foams. These chemicals gained widespread attention nationally as well as locally when they began to be detected in the drinking water of some public water systems.

A lack of a cohesive nationwide approach for determining appropriate PFAS levels and actions has resulted in a wide range of state standards for different PFAS compounds. This adds to the confusion for consumers trying to determine how much PFAS in their drinking water is safe.

Three strategies for dealing with emerging contaminants
It’s likely that chemicals, such as PFAS, originating from consumer products will continue to be detected in natural waters as well as treated drinking water. It’s also likely that as consumers of public drinking water, we will continue to prefer that these types of chemicals not be present in our drinking water. With that in mind, here are three strategies that could help.

Credit: ept.ca/features/environmental-compliance-new-tsca/

1. Study chemicals in the marketplace and replace toxic substances with less toxic alternatives

It’s estimated that approximately 2,000 new chemicals are introduced into the U.S. market each year. Few of these chemicals are evaluated for their toxicity and potential environmental impacts in a timely manner.

The Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) requires USEPA to evaluate new chemicals for safety, but historically, the agency did not have the necessary authority or resources to keep up with this task.

Congress recognized these deficiencies and, in 2016, it passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act. The act made some important improvements to the process for ensuring safety of chemicals in the marketplace.

Key provisions of the act:

  • Mandates safety reviews for chemicals in active commerce.
  • Requires a safety finding for new chemicals before they can enter the market.
  • Replaces TSCA’s burdensome, cost-benefit safety standard—which prevented the EPA from banning asbestos—with a pure, health-based safety standard.
  • Explicitly requires protection of vulnerable populations like children and pregnant women.

The act, however, only required USEPA to begin risk evaluations on 20 chemicals within the first three–and-a-half years of its implementation. Twenty is a very small number when compared to the number of new chemicals entering the market each year. If we can reduce or prevent chemicals that have a high potential of impacting water quality from entering the marketplace, we will have done our water resources a great service.

2. Source water protection is more important than ever

All too often decisions about how to develop land over sensitive aquifers and in close proximity to municipal wellfields are made without appropriate consideration about how the development and activities taking place on that development could impact water quality.

As consumers of public drinking water, we expect that our local governments and public water utilities engage in vigorous efforts to protect their supply of water. This means that economic development plans and activities must align with protection of our source of drinking water.

This alignment implies that some areas over sensitive water resources are not suitable for certain types of development that could pollute or threaten good water quality. A well thought out and proactive source water protection plan is the key to making this happen.

Granular activated carbon Credit: wilsonemi.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/gac-beaker.jpeg

3. Investment in advanced water treatment may be needed

Public expectations often drive investment in new technologies. As new analytical methods lower thresholds for detecting contaminants, water utilities and regulatory agencies will have to deal with the discovery of new chemicals in water. While the concentrations may be extremely small, community members will most likely feel safer if these chemicals are not found in their drinking water.

Water utilities may be faced with the decision to provide advanced water treatment, such as membrane filtration and granular activated carbon filtration, but this level of treatment can be expensive and could raise water rates.

MCD – Helping our region to be water resilient
The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) is committed to helping our region successfully respond to the water challenges that chemicals such as PFAS present to the water resiliency of our communities.

At the request of Congressman Mike Turner, MCD and a group of community and business leaders retained a consultant to assess the City of Dayton’s public water system and all interconnected utilities.

MCD is also working with the United States Geological Survey to evaluate the occurrence of PFAS in groundwater outside of the Dayton metro area. These efforts will help our region protect water for now and into the future.

Part II — PFAS and our water

In Part I, we looked at what per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances, or PFAS, are and why you should care. In Part II, we look at the impact to our drinking water.

Per- and polyfluorinated alkyl substances or PFAS are a group of manufactured chemicals widely used in consumer products such as cookware, pizza boxes, stain repellants, and fire-fighting foams. These chemicals gained widespread attention nationally as well as locally when they began to be detected in the drinking water of some public water systems.

New analytical methods open a Pandora’s Box
Over the past couple of decades, new analytical techniques have emerged that make it possible to detect contaminants in water at concentrations as low as parts per trillion. The emergence of these new analytical methods led to the discovery of previously undetectable contaminants in natural waters as well as treated drinking water.

Because of these new capabilities, the scientific community began to discover many of the chemicals that are used in common household consumer products, as well as in pharmaceuticals, were also present at low concentrations in many rivers, streams, and aquifers all over the world. Some of these chemicals were also detected in treated drinking water.

PFAS was one of the groups of these chemicals detected in both natural waters and treated drinking water. The discovery of previously undetectable contaminants in drinking water has prompted questions by public water system operators nationwide. How do you communicate health risks for a contaminant when there is no regulated drinking water standard with which to compare? Does the public expect that none of these compounds will be present in drinking water? How does everyday exposure to these compounds from consumer products compare to exposure from drinking water?

PFAS present in the waters of the Miami Valley
PFAS is here, too. Rivers and streams in the Miami Valley likely contain low levels of some PFAS compounds. Studies have shown that most municipal wastewater effluent contains low levels of PFAS. (Margot, J., Ross, L., Barry, D.A., and Holliger, C., 2015)

A study conducted by MCD in 2010 and 2011 found low levels of the PFAS compound PFOS present in 22 out of 31 river, stream, and aquifer sampling sites. The same study also found PFOS in two out of two wastewater treatment plant outfalls sampled.

More recently, PFAS compounds were detected in the treated drinking water at Wright Patterson Air Force Base (WPAFB) and at the City of Dayton. According to the Dayton Daily News (March 11, 2020), the PFAS is thought to have originated from the use of foams during fire-fighting training activities. PFAS from the foams may have leached into the underlying aquifer and traveled to nearby water supply wells. PFAS concentrations at WPAFB were high enough that a granular activated carbon filtration system was required to reduce concentrations to acceptable levels. Meanwhile the levels of PFAS in the Dayton public water system have remained low enough that additional treatment has not been necessary.

Federal and state regulatory agencies struggle to coordinate PFAS response
Determining consistent health guidelines for levels of PFAS in drinking water has been a struggle for federal and state regulatory agencies. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) published its PFAS action plan in February 2019. Under the plan, USEPA committed to developing maximum contaminant levels for two commonly detected PFAS compounds, PFOA and PFOS. The agency will also designate PFOA and PFOS as hazardous substances and begin a national monitoring program to examine the occurrence of PFAS compounds in drinking water.

Prior to the federal PFAS action plan, some states elected to set their own drinking water standards for PFAS as public pressure to do something about these contaminants mounted. Ohio EPA adopted the USEPA health advisory level of 70 parts per trillion. Ohio also developed a PFAS action plan for drinking water in December 2019. The objectives in include:

  • Gather and provide sampling data from specific types of public water systems to determine if PFAS is present in raw and finished drinking water.
  • Assist private water system owners with guidelines and resources to identify and respond to potential PFAS contamination.
  • Establish action levels for drinking water systems in Ohio to aid in appropriately responding to PFAS contamination for the protection of public health.

More information on the Ohio PFAS action plan for drinking water is available at https://epa.ohio.gov/pfas.

In PFAS Part III we’ll look at strategies for dealing with PFAS.

References
Margot, J., Ross, L., Barry, D.A., and Holliger, C., 2015. A review of the fate of
micropollutants in wastewater treatment plants. 2015 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.,
WIREs Water 2015. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1090.

Ismail Turay, Jr., (2020), ‘Ohio EPA to begin testing for ‘forever’ chemicals in drinking water,’ Dayton Daily News, 11 March.

PFAS Part I — the forever chemicals

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resource monitoring and analysis

You’ve probably heard about PFAS, but what are they and why are they such a hot topic today?

Amazing chemicals
PFAS or per- and polyflouroalkyl substances are a group of chemicals developed in the 1940s that can repel water, dirt, and grease; tolerate high temperatures; make fabrics stain resistant; and can be used to extinguish fires. They are nearly indestructible and last for a really long time. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there are nearly 5,000 PFAS compounds in existence today.

Widely used in consumer products
PFAS are widely used in consumer products such as cookware, pizza boxes and stain repellants. The properties of PFAS make them well suited for the creation of nonstick cookware surfaces, water resistant fabrics, stain resistant carpets, and for use in some firefighting foams. These products are popular with consumers but the PFAS chemicals used in their production are bad for the environment.

 

Credit: Grand Valley State University http://www.gvsu.edu/pfas/

PFAS are bad news for the environment
Unfortunately, some of the same properties that make PFAS valuable in manufacturing, make them bad news for clean air, soil and water. The chemical bonds that hold PFAS molecules together make them highly resistant to breaking down in the natural environment. Once they get into soil and water, they persist for very long periods of time. Because PFAS are so persistent, they can buildup (bioaccumulate) in fish and wildlife. They can also accumulate in the blood and serum of people. Studies have shown that low levels of PFAS are commonly present in municipal wastewater sludge and effluent as well in many rivers and streams where treated or untreated human sewage is discharged. The issue of PFAS in the environment is not going to go away anytime soon.

Widespread exposure to PFAS in the U.S. population
Humans can be exposed to PFAS by consuming PFAS-contaminated food and water or by using products that contain PFAS.

Studies have shown widespread exposure of PFAS in humans. (link to study Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals, Updated Tables). Yet, no one knows for sure the effects on human health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Human health effects uncertain
Studies of laboratory animals given large doses of PFAS have found that some PFAS may affect growth and development, reproduction, thyroid function, the immune system, and injure the liver. Epidemiologic studies have examined a number of health effects and associated exposure to some PFAS compounds with the following:

  • High cholesterol
  • Increased liver enzymes
  • Decreased vaccination response
  • Cancer
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Adverse reproductive and developmental effects

Nonetheless, more research is needed to better assess human health effects from exposure to PFAS. For more information on human health related effects of PFAS and what people can do to minimize exposure to these compounds visit Ohio EPA’s PFAS webpage.

PFAS what’s next?
Science is working to better understand how PFAS interacts with the human body and what levels of exposure are safe. Meanwhile industry is phasing out certain PFAS chemicals and replacing them with others. Whether these new PFAS compounds are safer is unknown.

A lack of coherent policies and standards for PFAS in drinking water at the federal level has, in many cases, led to state regulatory agencies adopting their own standards. This has led to a hodgepodge of different drinking water standards for various PFAS chemicals across the country.

Public water systems with PFAS in their source water find themselves in the unenviable position of having to make decisions without federal guidance as to which standards they should apply and what treatment options are most cost effective and ensure consumer safety. The way forward on this issue remains a work in progress.

Most manufactured chemicals we use end up in the environment
Perhaps the most striking point in dealing with the issue of PFAS in the environment is these compounds are a reminder to us all that most manufactured chemicals we use as consumers end up in the natural environment in one way or another.

Our consumer-driven society creates strong incentives to create new chemical compounds in manufacturing and industry each year. Yet, our knowledge of the ultimate fate of these compounds and their potential impacts on human health and the environment is often sorely lacking.

In Part II,  I’ll take a closer look at the issue of PFAS in source waters for public drinking water systems and how this issue is being addressed at the national, state, and local levels.

Where does the Miami Valley get its water?

MCD has created a new series of videos about the importance of water. Many people in the Miami Valley don’t know where our water comes from, how it’s replenished or the ways water is used beyond our daily life activities. They don’t know what an aquifer is or how it works. Or how many industries rely on groundwater and how high-quality water helps drive our economy.

We created these videos to explain all of that and more. Help us spread the word by sharing this first video with friends and family. The more people know about the aquifer, the more they will care about it and our water.

Together, we can protect our water.

 

Water Stewardship Summary Report 2012-2019

MCD has released a new report on Water Stewardship that discusses the region’s water challenges and how communities can take action and build resiliency to address those challenges..

Mike Ekberg, MCD manager of water resources monitoring and analysis, and Sarah Hippensteel Hall, manager of watershed partnerships, are currently visiting county commissions and key stakeholders to present the report and ask for input. They are highlighting the work of all three of MCD’s mission areas—flooding protection, water stewardship and recreation—but focusing primarily on water stewardship issues.

Your input through our short survey will help shape our work plan and ensure we are meeting your community’s water concerns and challenges.

Regional open space plan can help your community plan for the future

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

Could your land use plan be holding back your community?

It could if you’re not utilizing the regional open space plan to safeguard the aquifer’s groundwater and be prepared for the future.

Planning for changing climate
This region is averaging about 5 more inches of precipitation per year than it did 30 years ago. Stronger storms, heavier rainfalls, and destructive erosion are becoming more common.

Businesses looking to grow or relocate want to be sure polluted water or flooding isn’t an issue.

Communities, now more than ever, need to focus on protecting their water, and mitigating flooding and peak flows.

Well-managed open space programs provide a variety of benefits including protecting water and groundwater and preserving functioning floodplains.

A tool you can use – Regional Open Space Plan
According to a recent MVRPC report, the urbanized area has steadily marched outward from the core city of Dayton, consuming farmland and enclosing streams. The additional roads, parking lots, buildings, and transportation and utility infrastructure—even as the regional population holds steady—strains community resources.

To help your community plan for future development, the MVRPC Open Space Plan identifies which specific parts of the region contain critical open spaces that should be protected. Like development, open space conservation can be either planned or haphazard.

Well-managed open space programs protect water and groundwater, preserve functioning floodplains, provide recreation, keep prime farmland, increase greenspace connections, and support wildlife.

Open space is valued for natural services such as groundwater recharge, clean water, wildlife habitat, and the air purifying impacts of forests.

MVRPC’s Open Space Plan refers to several tools communities can use to protect open spaces and preserve farmland.


Tools to help

The Open Space Plan refers to several tools communities can use to protect open spaces and preserve farmland.

  • Farmland preservation
  • Conservation easements
  • Park development and management
  • Conservation design
  • Green stormwater infrastructure

The report/plan can help Miami Valley jurisdictions manage development from an open space perspective.

How MCD can help
MCD staff can guide your community through a local roundtable using a consensus process, bringing together local leaders from government, development, and natural resources.

Together, we’ll create development policies that balance water protection and economic development for your community.

The local roundtable will:

  • Identify existing development rules.
  • Compare them to the principles of better site design.
  • Determine if changes can or should be made to current codes and ordinances.
  • Negotiate and reach consensus on what the changes should be.

Let’s get started!
MCD, in partnership with local sponsors, can assist communities during all phases of a better site design process. Call me at 937-223-1278 ext. 3244 and let’s get started!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Did you know?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.