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.

Floodplains: The utility player of flood protection

When you think of flood protection, you likely think of dams and levees. But there’s another element of flood protection that provides many additional benefits – floodplains.

Floodplains are a bit like the utility player in baseball – called on to play a number of positions and always getting the job done. Here are several roles that floodplains play in our communities.

Floodplains reduce flooding
Floodplains are the land along rivers that take on and store excess water during storms and flooding. The water can then be slowly released over time. They help prevent floodwaters from reaching homes and businesses.  Floodplains are essential protection, working in tandem with dams and levees.floodplain

Floodplains protect our groundwater
Water stored on floodplains slowly seeps into the ground and helps replenish our aquifer which holds the region’s drinking water. The Great Miami River and the Buried Valley Aquifer interact with one another. Water from the river seeps into the aquifer during heavy rains/high flows, while groundwater provides flow to the river during our driest months when river flows are low.

Floodplains prevent river pollution
When rivers are running fast during high-water events, so are sediment, nutrients and other pollutants. Floodplains help to slow the river flows and are a place where the water can spread out. When water slows down, it can have the time to drain down through the soil, which filters out pollutants. The plants and trees that grow on floodplains take up excess nutrients; provide shade; and regulate water temperature for aquatic life, which prefers cooler water temperatures.

Floodplains provide for habitat
When land along rivers is not developed, it can provide habitat for many types of wildlife. The plants and trees that grow in floodplains provide places for animals to live. The roots of trees that extend into the water provide habitat for fish and stream insects.

Floodplains provide land for agriculture
With floodwaters come nutrient rich soils, making the floodplain especially good for agriculture, the strongest industry in Ohio’s economy. Many floodplains in our region are valued as prime agriculture lands.

Floodplains provide land for recreation
Floodplains along the river provide land for bike trails. The majority of the year, floodplains along the river remain dry, making the land perfect for bike trails and recreational use. About 60 of the 80 miles of Great Miami River Bike Trail are on MCD-owned land acquired for the flood protection system.  Without these flood protection lands, it would be difficult to have such a long, uninterrupted scenic bike trail through historic and charming riverfront communities. The Great Miami River Bike Trail is part of the nation’s largest paved trail network.floodplain recreation

Floodplains also provide areas where people can reach the river and enjoy recreation and wildlife-watching activities. Places where people can fish, launch a boat, play in a park, or just walk along the river provide the opportunities a community needs to stay healthy and active.

Just like a utility player for a baseball team will likely never be the MVP, floodplains will likely never get the credit that dams and levees do when it comes to flood protection. But they get the job done effectively, efficiently and unassumingly.

Good land-use planning protects floodplains and, in turn, floodplains protect us from flooding and clearly provide many other benefits. Encourage good land-use planning in your community.

 

Potential changes to the region’s drinking water protection plan

Most of us trust our local elected officials with many of the more routine decisions that make our cities hum, without feeling the need to be in attendance. But occasionally, big decisions are made and you want to be there – or at least be aware. On July 29, the City of Dayton will consider important changes to its source water protection program, which is designed to protect the city’s groundwater/drinking water.

The water stored underground in the Buried Valley Aquifer represents the region’s sole and irreplaceable source of drinking water. The Miami Conservancy District’s Aquifer Preservation Subdistrict supports comprehensive protection and management of the region’s water and helps communities develop and implement source water protection plans.

Since 1987, communities that use groundwater for drinking have been required to create plans to protect their water. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) oversees the source water protection requirements under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The City of Dayton was the first community in Ohio to develop and implement a source water protection program. Currently, the City of Dayton supplies drinking water to approximately 400,000 customers.

The program is multi-jurisdictional and partners with the cities of Huber Heights, Riverside, Vandalia, and Wright Patterson Air Force Base. The source water protection area encompasses more than 6,200 acres.

The City of Dayton has received national attention for its strategy to protect source water while allowing businesses to stay in the source water area. For example, the Risk Point Buy Down Program encourages businesses to permanently reduce chemical inventory through financial incentives. Since its establishment in 1988, more than 25 million pounds of chemicals have been reduced in the source water protection area.

The City of Dayton’s source water protection program has been an exemplary model for communities and is proof that sensible groundwater protection strategies and economic growth can co-exist. Last year, the City of Dayton announced plans to revise the program and asked for comments.

The current proposal:

  • Increases incentive funds for businesses to eliminate hazardous materials.
  • Adds more monitoring wells.
  • Reduces the one-year source water protection area (the area in which contaminants can reach production wells within one year).
  • Allows variances that would increase the inventory of hazardous materials in the source water protection area.
  • Outlines a five-year time-of-travel zone (the area in which contaminants can reach production wells within five years) but doesn’t include any protection regulations.
  • Expands the list of prohibited uses within the source water protection area.
  • Requires more frequent inspections.
  • Increases maximum fines for rule violations.

The Dayton City Commission will meet on July 29th to discuss the proposed changes and consider their adoption. Visit the City of Dayton’s website to better understand what’s at stake and make your voice heard. Email a comment about the proposal to the City of Dayton.

Our abundant source of clean groundwater is one of the region’s greatest assets that sets it apart from other areas of the U.S. Having clean drinking water is paramount to community health and safety.

With water being called everything from “liquid gold” to the “oil of the 21st century,” and because we can’t possibly know the future or foresee all potential contamination sources, protecting source water with as many tools as possible is the wisest choice.

 

Is road salt ruining our water?

By Mike Ekberg, MCD water resources manager

The last couple of winters have had a strong grip on the region, making driving a challenge. Communities across the region use road salt to melt snow and ice and keep drivers safer, but at what cost?

Use of road salt in the northern U.S. has doubled the amount of chloride in rivers and streams in just two decades (1990-2011). “It’s estimated that more than 22 million tons of salt are scattered on the roads of the U.S. annually—about 137 pounds of salt for every American,” according to a Jan. 6, 2014 story at smithsonian.com.

A recent report showed that chloride levels in rivers and streams were highest in the winter, but chloride concentrations were rising even when road salt wasn’t being applied. This suggests that after salt applications, chloride was temporarily stored in shallow aquifers and then slowly released into rivers and streams throughout the year.

Runoff carrying road salt can have negative impacts on aquatic ecosystems but doesn’t present much of a threat in the Great Miami River. Data collected on the Great Miami River near Miamisburg shows that increased chloride concentrations from road salt applications don’t last long and the salt flushes through the river fairly quickly.

Perhaps, a greater threat is that dissolved road salt can penetrate into groundwater used as a source for drinking water. Salt reaching our aquifers (which stores groundwater) does not flush through as quickly as it does in rivers and streams. In extreme cases, improper storage or use of road salt can impact the quality of drinking water.

High chloride levels in drinking water forced the community of Camden to shut down a well in 2010. For years, chloride levels in the aquifer at Camden appeared to be relatively stable. But in 2009, chloride levels tripled, jumping from around 40 milligrams per liter to 120 milligrams per liter. That’s the same year that Camden residents began to complain about a salty taste in their water.

The cause was a large road salt storage facility located near the well field (drinking water source) that was not covered. When rain dissolved some of the salt, it was carried into the aquifer underlying the facility. Eventually, the levels of dissolved salt in the groundwater forced Camden to shut down the well so it was no longer used for drinking water. Camden was forced to seek an alternate source of drinking water.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has set a secondary maximum contaminant level for chloride at 250 mg/L. Chloride in groundwater does not present a direct health risk. It does however present a taste issue when present in high enough concentrations.

After Camden’s experience, a work group, of which I was a member, developed statewide salt storage recommendations. Communities now have guidelines to follow for salt storage including:

  • Guidelines for constructing salt storage facilities.
  • Recommendations for covering salt stored outside.
  • Managing storm water that flows off the storage site.

In addition to implementing guidelines for salt storage, communities can address potential impacts of road salt applications on groundwater through their source water protection programs.

The bottom line is we need to be aware of the most sensitive environments where road salt storage and applications have the greatest potential to get into aquifers. These areas can be mapped and monitored. If chloride levels begin to rise communities can reduce applications in the most sensitive areas near well fields.

map of wells

Notice that the wells with the highest levels of chloride are in developed areas, most likely reflecting impact from road salt applications.

Camden well field stories:

Salt contamination threatens Camden water supply
Camden must connect to water district, Ohio EPA says
Camden in emergency water supply situation, state says
Camden water fix in the works