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.

Top 5 Regional Water Challenges for the 21st Century

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

You may have heard me say this before—southwest Ohio is water rich. We have abundant, high-quality, water when compared with other parts of our country and the world.

Yet, our region is not without challenges in managing water. Here are five water trends that may pose challenges to our community leaders for the foreseeable future.

Precipitation and runoff are trending up

Our region is getting wetter. Mean annual precipitation and runoff (the amount of water that drains off land) in the region are trending up. In the 1960s, mean annual precipitation was around 37 inches per year. Today, mean annual precipitation is a little over 41 inches. That‘s an increase of about 4 inches per year. Not surprisingly, mean annual runoff shows a similar trend.Precipitation trending up chart

These trends are good news and bad news at the same time. The good news from a water quantity perspective is our region isn’t likely to experience any long-term water shortages given current water uses. The bad news is our region could experience more frequent flooding outside of areas protected by The Miami Conservancy District (MCD). One thing that’s clear is communities will likely deal with more frequent and intense rain events in the future.

Water use is trending down

According to data compiled by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, water use for things such as drinking water, manufacturing, and irrigation are declining. Total ground and surface water used in the area that drains to the Great Miami River peaked in the early 2000s at slightly fewer than 600 million gallons of water per day. Water use is currently at about 300 million gallons per day

Water trend usage chartThe decline in water use is a result of several factors, including more water-efficient plumbing fixtures, increased efficiencies in industrial water use, a regional decline in manufacturing, and the closure of the DP&L Hutchings Station power plant.

Declining water use poses a challenge for many local water utilities struggling to maintain sufficient revenues to deal with rising infrastructure costs. In the past, water systems often made their financial projections based upon an assumption of rising water demand. This assumption is no longer valid. And yet, public water system infrastructure must be maintained if we want to have safe drinking water. Some water utilities may need to restructure rates to ensure sufficient revenues.

Nutrient levels in rivers and streams remain too high

Algal bloom on Great Miami River

2012 algal bloom on the Great Miami River in downtown Dayton

Nitrogen and phosphorus levels in many area rivers and streams are too high and affect aquatic life. The most common sources of nitrogen and phosphorus are agricultural fertilizers and human sewage. When nitrogen and phosphorus are present in water at high levels, they fuel excessive algal growth in the rivers where we like to recreate. Recent algal blooms in other parts of the US have been toxic. Agricultural leaders and communities that manage water-reclamation facilities are working to find a solution that cost-effectively reduces nutrients in our rivers and streams.

Road salt and fertilizers impact aquifers

top-water-challenges-blog-road-salt

Deicing agents such as road salt and brine can increase chloride in streams and rivers.

Applications of road salt and nitrogen fertilizers are perhaps the two most prolific sources of man-made contaminants to aquifers. Elevated levels of chloride from road salt—and elevated levels of nitrate from fertilizers or failing septic systems—are present in regional aquifers. That’s what  groundwater data collected by the United States Geological Survey, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA), and MCD show.

The take-home message is better methods for applying road deicing agents and agricultural fertilizers are needed in areas where regional aquifers are vulnerable to contaminants.

Do we know where these vulnerable aquifer areas are? We have a good start. Every public water system in Ohio that relies on groundwater has a defined source water protection area. A source water protection area is a map of all the aquifer areas which provide drinking water to a particular public water system. Those maps can be shared with farmers and road maintenance departments. It may be possible to reduce use or find better methods to apply fertilizers and road salt in these sensitive areas.

Widespread destruction of natural stream habitats continue

top-water-challenges-blog-concrete-channel

Modified stream channels have poor habitat and water quality.

It used to be that most people’s image of a polluted stream involved a factory with a big discharge pipe pouring toxic chemicals into the stream. That’s no longer a top water quality threat to regional rivers and streams. According to Ohio EPA, human alterations to the stream channel are perhaps the most widespread cause of stream destruction. Human alterations can mean:

  • Channelizing or straightening a stream channel.
  • Removing the natural vegetation from a streambank.
  • Increasing the impervious surface area that drains into a stream.
  • Damming the stream channel.
  • Developing in a stream’s floodplain.

All of the activities listed above disrupt a stream’s natural habitat, which can affect water quality in the places many of us like to recreate. They also create other problems, such as soil erosion and flooding, which can lead to costly clean-up and restoration.

Solutions to the problem typically seek to preserve as much of the stream channel in its natural state as possible. Streamside setbacks, conservation easements, and low- impact development practices are tools that can minimize destruction of rivers and streams.

Moving Forward

All of these water challenges can be overcome. The know-how already exists. The key is you and me. Most of these water challenges are the direct or indirect result of how we live our lives—the neighborhoods we build, the services we demand, and the value we place on having clean water.

The solutions will require different ways of thinking and different approaches to the way in which our region develops land. Agricultural practices for fertilizers and stream conservation will have to improve. New investments in water reclamation technologies may be needed, and perhaps changes to water rates. Are we ready to embrace those changes?

What can you do to prepare? Here’s a short list of ideas:

  • Advocate for federal investment in water infrastructure upgrades.
  • Include water management in short- and long-range community planning.
  • Keep water protection at the top of your community’s priorities.
  • Write local policies that protect water.

 

Great Miami River: Is the water safe for recreation?

By Mike Ekberg, Manager for Water Resources Monitoring and Analysis

Do you like to canoe, kayak, or row on the Great Miami River? Have you ever flipped your boat and ended up soaked with a mouthful of river water? Did you worry about getting sick?

River users frequently ask me,  “Is the water safe?”

The answer is yes, in most cases.

e. coli

E. coli bacteria

Bacteria levels can be a problem
Just like in most lakes and rivers, bacteria can be a problem. Bacteria levels from fecal contamination in the Great Miami River are a bad news/good news situation. The bad news is the levels tend to spike after it rains. The good news is the bacteria tend to die off quickly.

Keep in mind that even after a good rain, the risk of exposure to bacteria is likely to be low unless you swim in or drink the river water. For most people, paddling or rowing is a relatively low-risk activity.

Bacteria can get into the river from a variety of sources including poorly functioning septic systems, pet waste, streets, sidewalks, storm sewers, and farm fields. In the Great Miami River and its tributaries, Ohio EPA sets water-quality standards and measures recreation water quality based on a group of bacteria known as Escherichia coli (E. coli).

Ohio EPA evaluated bacteria levels in the Great Miami River in 2009 and 2010. The results showed average bacteria concentrations exceeded state standards at more than half of the sampling sites. MCD evaluated E. coli levels in the Great Miami River in 2012 and also found frequent occurrences of the bacteria.

Elevated E. coli levels and rainfall are related
As little as 0.30 inches of rain can raise E. coli levels in the Great Miami River, according to MCD’s study. But bacteria levels can return to safe levels in as little as 48 to 72 hours after a rainfall. Water samples collected 72 or more hours after rain often showed very low levels of E. coli and met state standards.

Dry weather minimizes risk
The best way to minimize your exposure to bacteria in the Great Miami River is to enjoy it during days of dry weather. If, however, you have open wounds, skin infections, or have a compromised immune system, consult your physician before taking part in any river recreation, and use caution.    

Forecasting safety
Using the relationship among rainfall, river flow, turbidity and E. coli, it’s possible to predict safe or unsafe river recreation conditions. Technology now allows for water-quality forecasting. Check out Ohio Nowcast, a web forecasting service for beaches on Lake Erie.

Preliminary planning is under way for MCD to develop a forecasting app for the Great Miami River. Two years of sampling will be needed before the app can be up and running.