Fish and bugs love low dam modification and removal

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

What if I told you the Great Miami River in Dayton has some of the healthiest populations of fish and macroinvertebrates (stream bugs) and provides some of the best aquatic habitat in Ohio? You probably wouldn’t believe me. After all, urban rivers aren’t often associated with high water quality.

Recent studies commissioned by MCD indicate that the number and diversity of bugs and fish living in a 5-mile stretch of the Great Miami River in downtown Dayton exceed expectations for this section of the river.

We wanted to know if the river’s aquatic life would improve after the low dam near Monument Avenue in downtown Dayton was altered for paddling recreation. Before the kayak chutes were created, the low dam slowed the river’s flow under certain conditions. This lowered oxygen levels and made the river an undesirable place for species of bugs and fish that need lots of oxygen and clear water.

Fish sample from Great Miami River

Fish sample collected on the Great Miami River in Dayton

With funding assistance from Five Rivers MetroParks, MCD hired the University of Dayton’s Jeff Kavanaugh, Ph.D., to conduct the studies. Kavanaugh and his student researchers collected data in 2014 and 2015 before the low dam was modified, and again in 2017 and 2018 after the low dam was altered.

The studies took a close look at the diversity and population of the river’s fish and macroinvertebrate communities. Macroinvertebrates are stream bugs that live part of their lives underwater. Scientists track fish and bugs to determine a river or stream’s health because they can be sensitive to changes in habitat conditions and water pollution. If pollution-sensitive species are present in the river, experts believe the river is in good condition.

Key findings from the study include:

  • The fish community is diverse and abundant.
  • The macroinvertebrate community is also diverse and abundant.
  • The habitat conditions of the river channel are very good to excellent.
Dragonfly nymphs

Dragonfly nymphs are an example of a macroinvertebrate found in the Great Miami River.

Modifications to the low dam near Monument Avenue improved river channel habitat. The changes allowed healthier communities of macroinvertebrates to flourish, and the fish that feed upon those communities to return.

The results from the study show this section of the river could meet the state’s highest criteria for water quality.

The study also noted a few other factors that contribute to the health of this stretch of the Great Miami River:

  • The City of Dayton does not have a combined sewer system. This eliminates periodic discharges of raw sewage into the river during rain events.
  • Municipal wastewater treatment, thanks to requirements of the Clean Water Act, has played a major role in the recovery of the Great Miami River.
  • The buried valley aquifer sustains flow in the Great Miami River during droughts. Abundant water flows even during the driest times of the year, typically summer and early fall, thanks to the aquifer.

Dr. Kavanaugh also studied the fish, bugs and habitat conditions in the area surrounding the Tait Station low dam before its removal. He will compare that data with data from studies completed after the dam was completely removed in 2018.

Wear it: Your excuses don’t hold water

By Brenda Gibson, public relations manager

How many different ways can we say it? Wearing a life jacket can save your life. We know, we know. You have all kinds of reasons why you don’t want to wear it. Here are five excuses we’ve heard for not wearing a life jacket and why they don’t hold water.

I have life jackets on board.

That’s like saying, “I have seatbelts in my car.” They don’t do any good unless you wear them. Have you ever tried to put on a seatbelt during an accident? The same goes for trying to put on a life jacket. There’s just not enough time.

I’m a strong swimmer.

That’s great, but are you a smart swimmer? Because a smart swimmer would know that if you fall into the water, your clothes can feel a lot heavier and exhaust even a strong swimmer.

It’s too hot, and life jackets don’t look cool.
Nice try, but the days of the old-fashioned, bulky orange life jacket are long gone. There are many choices of life jackets including trendy colors and patterns and those that can resemble a pair of suspenders or a belt pack. They not only look cooler, they are cooler.

The life jacket gets in the way.

Again, you have plenty of choices to find the one life jacket that will work for you no matter the activity.

Nothing is going to happen to me.

Face it, accidents happen. Boating can be fun, safe and enjoyable with the smallest of efforts. Are you really willing to take the chance of losing your life, and causing pain and suffering for your family and friends just because you wouldn’t “Wear It!” Come on, you’re better than that.

Find the right life jacket for you. And WEAR IT! Then download any or all of the river recreation maps for more information on paddling safety.

Safe Boating Week is May 18-24 2019.

Tweet us a photo of you wearing your life jacket @mcdwater

More than 4 feet of precipitation in 2018!

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

One year ago, I wrote a blogpost summarizing the year 2017 as “another wet year.”

Now I’m summarizing water conditions for 2018, and I could pretty much copy and paste what I posted last year. And, with some minor changes, it would ring true. Last year reflects a continuation of the trend in rising precipitation for our region. If it continues, we’ll see more rain, more runoff, and more high-water events in the future.

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

Noteworthy Weather
Significant weather events in 2018 included record high precipitation in February, a large high-water event in April, significant showers and thunderstorms in August, the remnants of Tropical Storm Gordon in September, a much warmer-than-normal October, and a cold and very wet November.

Precipitation for 2018 was much above average for the Great Miami River Watershed at 50.68 inches. This is 10 inches above the 30-year average annual precipitation of 40.30 inches. The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) observation station in Dayton recorded 48.70 inches of precipitation in 2018, which is the sixth highest since record-keeping began in 1883.

Monthly precipitation was more than 1 inch above average in February, April, August, September, and November. May, July, and October were the dry months, recording more than 1 inch below-average precipitation. February set an all-time record high for the month with an average of 5.35 inches of precipitation for the Great Miami River Watershed.

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

Three High Water Events in the Top 100
The greater-than-average amounts of precipitation in 2018 led to above-average runoff. Runoff is that portion of precipitation which flows downhill or seeps into aquifers, and enters streams, rivers, lakes or ponds. Runoff in the Great Miami River Watershed ultimately ends up in the Great Miami River. Annual runoff for the Great Miami River was 23.26 inches in 2018, which is 8.69 inches above average. MCD recorded 13 high-water events last year – well above the 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 MCD’s Emergency Action plan.

The largest high-water event in 2018 took place from April 3-9 and resulted in a total peak storage of 65,050 acre-feet (21.2 billion gallons) of water behind all five MCD dams. This event ranked as the 12th largest high-water event in MCD history. MCD also recorded its 49th and 55th largest events in 2018.

There is evidence that rising global temperatures are increasing the amount of water or humidity in the atmosphere. Satellites have measured a 4-percent rise in water vapor in the air column. The more humid atmosphere seems to be making storms wetter. Many weather stations in the United States are showing increases in extreme precipitation. Our region seems to be showing signs of this trend.

 

 

MCD monitoring winter weather systems whether mild or wild

Like it or not, winter 2018 – 2019 is upon us. What kind of winter can we expect in the Miami Valley this year? Will it be cold and snowy, or mild and dry?

It’s hard to say, according to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA). The go-to signs that often signal winter weather patterns are slow to give away their secrets this year.

The bottom line: It’s likely we’ll see cycles of mild weather as well as periods when arctic air descends our way as shorter term influences play out.

Whatever winter brings, MCD will monitor upcoming weather systems, preparing for any flood protection response needed in the communities we serve.

Read on to learn more about El Nino, Arctic Oscillation and more influences on our winter weather patterns 

Teleconnections in meteorology refer to large-scale patterns of pressure and temperature in the earth’s atmosphere that impact weather globally. Three teleconnections that influence winter weather in the Miami Valley include the El Niño –Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Arctic Oscillation (AO), and the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO).

ENSO exerts a strong influence on the path of winter storm systems as they track across the United States. ENSO cycles tend to operate on timescales of at least several months and have long-lasting influences on global weather patterns. There are three phases to the ENSO cycle: El Niño, Neutral, and La Niña. Each of these phases impacts winter weather across the United States in different ways.

Locally:

  • Strong El Niños tend to result in milder and drier winters in the Miami Valley.
  • Strong La Niña winters tend to be wetter than normal.
  • Neutral conditions tend to result in colder than normal winters.

ENSO impacts winter weather in the Miami Valley by influencing the position of the Jet Stream and the track of storm systems across our region. AO and NAO also influence winters in the Miami Valley and add complexity to seasonal forecasts.

AO refers to changing atmospheric pressure over the arctic region of the globe.

  • Positive AOs tend to keep cold arctic air confined to northern latitudes. Negative AOs often plunge arctic air masses south into the eastern United States – think polar vortex.
  • AO cycles can be forecast only about two weeks ahead, so their use in making seasonal forecasts is somewhat limited.

NAO measures the difference in atmospheric sea level pressure between Iceland in the North Atlantic Ocean and the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Northern Africa. Like the AO, the NAO has a positive and negative phase.

  • Positive NAOs are generally associated with warmer-than -normal temperatures in the eastern United States.
  • Negative NAOs tend to bring colder temperatures to the eastern United States.

Current atmospheric signals
NOAA forecasters think there is a 90-percent chance of El Niño conditions developing in the equatorial Pacific Ocean this year. Even if it does, it’s not expected to be a strong one. Weak El Niños do not exert as much of an influence on local winter weather as strong El Niños. So this year’s ENSO signal isn’t giving a strong signal as to how winter 2018 – 2019 will unfold.

The AO was in a negative phase throughout November allowing arctic air masses to travel south. This favored colder-than-normal temperatures in the Miami Valley, which is exactly what we got. The AO is now in a positive phase, which tends to keep cold air masses bottled up in the arctic. This favors more seasonable temperatures in the Miami Valley for the time being. NOAA is forecasting a continuation of positive AO conditions for the next week or so.

50:50 chances of a mild/cold or wet/dry winter
So what does this all mean?  NOAA published its 2018 – 2019 Winter Outlook for the United States, and the outlook is summarized in the two maps below.

The first map shows the temperature outlook. Much of the western United States is expected to have above-normal temperatures this winter. Southwest Ohio is colored white meaning there is an equal chance of above or below normal temperatures.

The second map shows the precipitation outlook. Above-normal precipitation is expected across much of the southern United States. Pockets of below-normal precipitation are expected across the Dakotas and Montana as well as the Great Lakes region. Once again, southwest Ohio is colored white meaning we have an equal chance of above-normal or below-normal precipitation.

Winter 2018 – 2019 – Anybody’s guess
Based on ENSO, AO and NAO information, it’s likely we’ll see cycles of mild weather as well as periods when arctic air descends our way as shorter term fluctuations in AO and NAO cycles play out. On top of all that is the simple randomness of local weather, making seasonal forecasting difficult at best!

View time-lapse video of Tait Station low dam removal

Work on the removal of the Tait Station low dam is progressing nicely. At the end of October, the project was more than 75 percent complete and is expected to be finished by the end of the year.

The Ohio Department of Transportation is fully funding the $1.75 million project to remove the Tait Station low dam.

With the low dam removed, water will cascade over a riffle of stones, creating a more picturesque experience. Removal of the low dam:

  • Will improve river safety and river access along the Great Miami Riverway.
  • Is expected to improve water quality as well as habitat for fish, insects and birds that live in and along the river.

Watch a time-lapse video of the project through Sept. 30.

A little goes a long way with septic system maintenance

By Mike Ekberg, manager for water resources monitoring and analysis

The old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” rings especially true if you have a septic system.

Consider this: It only costs about $300 every four years to maintain your septic system. But it can cost $7,000 to $10,000 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.

You are probably on a septic system 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. 17-21 and a good time to not only have your system maintained but review ways to keep your system working well.

Maintaining 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.

How to care for your septic system

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

 

 

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.

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

 

 

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.