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.

MCD dams storing water more often than ever before

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

MCD flood protection dams are storing water more often than at any other time since the dams were completed almost 100 years ago. That’s because the Miami Valley’s climate is getting wetter. Can the flood protection dams handle more rain?

A rising 30-year average precipitation
Average annual precipitation in the Miami Valley for the 30-year period of 1951 to 1980 was about 37 inches a year. Average precipitation for the last 30 years (1991 – 2020) has climbed to almost 42 inches a year—a nearly 14 percent Increase.

Average precipitation increased for every month except August. Average precipitation for the months of January, April, May, June, July, September, October, November, and December increased by more than 10 percent. October showed the largest increase in average precipitation—more than 30 percent.

With increased precipitation comes increased runoff and higher river flows. When river flows become high enough to be a flood threat, our flood protection dams go into action and begin to store water. When any one or more of our dams begin to store water, we call that a “storage event.” Storage events at each of the dams are recorded separately. So if all five dams are in storage at the same time, it is counted as five storage events. The storage event ends at each dam when that dam is no longer holding back any water.
 
Waters stored behind dams more frequently
MCD tracks the number of storage events that occur each year. The following chart shows the number of storage events that have occurred during each full decade since the dams were completed in 1922. You can see how the number of storage events has climbed throughout the decades of the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. Prior to the 1990s, no single decade had more than 200 storage events. The number of storage events in the last three decades all exceeded 200, and storage events for the decade of the 2010s exceeded 300.  

More frequent large storage events
Increasing frequency of storage events at MCD dams is one thing. What about the size of those storage events?

The answer seems to fall in line with simple odds. All other things being equal, the more storage events there are, the greater the chance of having really large events.

We rank storage events based upon the total storage volume of water held behind our five dams. The following chart shows the number of events by decade that rank in the top 100 largest storage events. You can see that 32 of the top 100 largest events took place in the last 20 years. The decades of the 2000s and 2010s each had 16 storage events that ranked in the top 100. Only the 1950s comes close to this number. That decade produced the largest storage event since the MCD flood protection system was built—the January 1959 event.

MCD flood protection system is resilient
The climate of the Miami Valley is changing and getting wetter. Flood risk is increasing. Fortunately, the MCD flood protection system is well designed to respond to these changing conditions in the Miami Valley.

The system was designed to withstand a very large event—the 1913 flood event plus 40 percent more runoff (which is the equivalent of 11-14 inches of rain over three days). The January 1959 event was the largest storage event since the completion of the flood protection dams. The 44.8 billion gallons of floodwater the dams held back used only 16 percent of the five dams’ total storage capacity. That means 84 percent of the capacity has never been used but is there if we need it.

The MCD flood protection system is resilient—based on design, capacity and performance. Resiliency is a good thing to have in a rapidly changing world.

Learn more about the flood protection system.

2020 Precipitation: Up, Down and All Around

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

Note: At MCD, we track water movement into and out of Great Miami River Watershed over long periods of time, spanning decades. The records generated by our observer precipitation stations, stream gages, and observation wells allow MCD staff to examine long-term trends in water resources. Water enters the watershed as precipitation (rain, sleet, hail, and snow), and it exits the watershed through evaporation, plant transpiration, and runoff.

2020 will go down in history as anything but a normal year. And that goes for our region’s precipitation, too.

The Great Miami River Watershed started the year wet, with four of the first five months experiencing above-average precipitation. And then the tide turned, and the watershed saw drier-than-normal conditions for five of the last seven months.

Drought conditions existed in parts of the watershed from early July until mid-August and returned to parts of the watershed in mid-September, lingering until late October. October was uncharacteristically wet, averaging 5.02 inches of precipitation or 2.06 inches above average.

Despite the many drier months, total precipitation for the year was 2.26 inches above normal for a total of 42.56 inches, continuing a long-term trend of increased annual average precipitation.

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

Average Annual Precipitation Increasing

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

This graph shows the moving average 30-year precipitation for the Great Miami River Watershed.

Runoff

The higher-than-average amounts of precipitation in 2020 led to above-average runoff. Runoff is that portion of precipitation which ultimately ends up in the Great Miami River. Annual runoff for the Great Miami River was 16.01 inches in 2020—1.4 inches above average.

Two High-Water Events in the Top 100

MCD recorded 12 high-water events last year—well above the average of eight. MCD defines a high-water event as a time when one or more of the following occurs:

  • Any one of MCD’s five flood protection dams goes into storage—when the conduits slow the flow of water. This is approximately when the conduits are flowing full.
  • The Great Miami River in any one of the 10 cities MCD’s system protects reaches an action stage as defined by MCD’s Emergency Action plan.

The largest high-water event in 2020 took place from May 19-23 when all five MCD dams together stored a peak of 9.2 billion gallons (28,200 acre-feet) of water. This event ranked as the 69th largest high-water event in MCD history. MCD also recorded its 96th largest event in 2020.

While no monthly or annual records were set in 2020, we did experience two top 100 high-water events. The above-average total precipitation and runoff as well as the higher-than-average high-water events continue to provide evidence of a changing climate in southwest Ohio. A climate that seems to be getting wetter with time.

Dam concrete repair necessary to ensure future performance

By Don O’Connor, P.E., chief of construction and planning

MCD is committed to keeping the dams and other flood protection structures operating safely and properly for your protection. To that end, we are nearing completion on a $2.61 million project to improve concrete at Lockington Dam. Over the last 13 months, MCD’s contractor has removed and rebuilt up to 15 feet of concrete on top of the dam’s upstream and downstream right bank wall as well as repaired concrete on the face of the wall.

This project was necessary. While there was little danger that the wall might fail during a high-water event, there was significant deterioration. Had we waited another 10 or 20 years, the extent of damage would have been more severe and much more expensive to repair. Addressing this rehabilitation in a timely manner is financially responsible. And it could be dangerous if put off for too long.

Over the last 13 months, MCD’s contractor has removed up to 15 feet of concrete on top of the Lockington Dam upstream and downstream right bank wall and repaired concrete on the face of the wall.

Freeze/thaw cycles damaged the concrete

Over the decades, water has seeped into the walls through joints and cracks. That water has been a destructive force because of the innumerable freeze/thaw cycles that caused the water to expand and turn into ice. This caused extensive damage to the outer surface of the concrete walls.

The last significant concrete repair at Lockington and the other four flood protection dams took place in the 1970s with a material called shotcrete. The shotcrete repaired the previous surface deterioration, but the freeze/thaw cycles eventually damaged the material and caused some of it to detach from the walls. The Lockington Dam shotcrete was beyond its useful life and needed to be replaced.

With the current repair, MCD’s contractor also installed an underground drain system behind the concrete wall to keep rainwater and snowmelt from seeping into the wall joints. The drains are designed to help prevent the damage caused by the freeze/thaw cycles.

The repair work at Lockington Dam is the first in a series of projects MCD
will need to complete at its dams.

More work to come

Concrete repair at Lockington Dam is the first of many concrete projects to come. MCD is planning additional work at Lockington Dam along the left wall. Each of the dams will likely need similar work. Studies are planned for the other four dams to determine the extent of repairs needed and to prioritize work for future projects.

The right-wall project at Lockington was the culmination of years of work and monitoring. MCD frequently inspects its dams. Those inspections began to show a need for more detailed investigation/structural analysis. That analysis helped MCD understand the scope of work needed at the dam, leading to the design and construction.

These kinds of projects are years in the making. But it’s important we take the time to follow a logical process, determine the need, and complete it as cost-effectively as possible.

Don O’Connor is MCD’s chief of construction and planning. He joined MCD in 2018 and is a licensed professional engineer.

Earn your Water Diploma – Enroll at Great Miami U!

Win a gift card to your favorite local brewery or coffee shop

At most universities you pay to learn. At Great Miami U, we’ll pay you (if we pick your name in a drawing of all our graduates). Earning your degree from Great Miami U is free and easy. And better yet, it only takes a few minutes!

The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) is launching the Great Miami Watershed University, or Great Miami U, today as part of the national Value Water campaign to raise awareness about the importance of water and the often invisible water challenges facing our country.

We’re fortunate in this region to have plenty of water. You turn on the faucet and water comes out. It’s hard not to take water for granted when it’s always there for us. But how much do you really know about the region’s water? We’ve got the basics ready for you in a new and fun way to learn.

You can earn your diploma in three easy steps.

  1. Click here to get started.
  2. Watch four 2-minute videos about water.
  3. Take a 4-question exam to test your knowledge.

You will then be registered to win a $100 gift card to the local brewery or coffee shop of our choice. We’ll even email you a diploma to print.

EARN A BONUS CHANCE TO WIN – Take a photo of yourself with your diploma and post to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #GreatMiamiU and we’ll enter you a second time.

 

Protecting in all kinds of conditions

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

The US Postal Service is often lauded for delivering the mail in all kinds of weather—rain, snow, sleet, etc. But delivering, or in our case, protecting, in bad weather is kind of our thing. And for the past two weekends, our staff took it to another level, protecting our communities while following the necessary guidelines in place due to COVID-19.

“The river went up extremely quickly, and staff monitored the situation and responded—some during the middle of the night—with timely flood gate closures and well readings,” says Janet Bly, MCD general manager, of the March 19-23 high water event. “Staff members are following the workplace guidelines necessary due to the COVID-19 situation while still doing the critically important job of protecting communities from flooding.”

The hydrology team drove separately to the gages to collect stream measurements, says Krystal Lacy, lead worker. Since the team members can’t wash their hands in the field, the hydro techs made sure to use lots of hand sanitizer between locations and kept distance between one another. And they made sure to wipe down the vehicles, she says.

Water rushing through the Germantown Dam conduits.


High water facts and figures for the March 19-23 high-water event:

  • An average of 2.5 inches of rain fell throughout the Miami Valley between 8 a.m. March 18 and 8 a.m. March 20.
  • At peak storage, our five flood protection dams together stored a total of 6.8 billion gallons of water, which ranks 95th on MCD’s list of largest high water events.
  • The peak pool stage at Germantown Dam reached 42.4 feet, which ranks 24th on the list of highest pool stages at the dam.

High water facts and figures for the March 28-29 high-water event:

  • Between 0.75 and 3.25 inches of rain fell throughout the Miami Valley March 28 and 29.
  • At peak storage, our five flood protection dams together stored a total of about 6.5 billion gallons of water, which ranks 102nd on MCD’s list of largest high water events.
  • Lockington Dam recorded its 15th highest pool stage at 28.8 feet.

MCD has recorded seven high water events so far in 2020, with the dams together storing water 25 times this year.

How much water flowed through Germantown Dam?
Earlier this week, a resident asked how much water was flowing through Germantown Dam conduits during the high water event. We thought you might be interested, too.

Peak outflow at Germantown during the high water event over the March 21 weekend was 7,000 cubic feet of water per second, equaling about 3.1 million gallons per minute or 188.5 million gallons per hour.

“I just love that dam and it really works,” the resident wrote, “And they didn’t have any computers, just slide rulers (when it was built).”

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.

Spreading the value of water

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

Water is the Rodney Dangerfield of resources. Like Dangerfield used to say, it “don’t get no respect.”

Let’s face it. You can’t live without water. But I’ll bet you don’t think twice when you turn on the faucet. You just expect that good quality water will flow. The adage that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure was never truer than with our water.

MCD promotes the value of water in many ways, from the work our experts do to study water conditions to hosting events, delivering programs and providing sponsorships. We work with many partners around the region who carry the “Value Water” message, too. Together, the message that water is crucial to healthy communities has a broad reach. And yet we still need your help.

Below are some of the ways MCD works to spread the “Value Water” message. Please join us and participate in these programs to help spread the word.

For kidsProject WET booklets on floods, groundwater, and rivers
These fun activity booklets have been distributed to county soil and water conservation districts that work with teachers, interact with schoolchildren, and attend community festivals and fairs. The booklets were also made available to nature centers and children’s museums such as Boonshoft.

For everyone – Visit SPLASH!
Speaking of Boonshoft, MCD helped fund and design the museum’s interactive water exhibit SPLASH! You can discover more about our local aquifers, learn about conservation efforts and what you can do to preserve this crucial natural resource. Visitors can even explore water careers.

 

 

For teachersTrout Unlimited’s Trout in the Classroom
One way to help young people understand the importance of healthy rivers and enable them to appreciate fish and wildlife is a national program created by Trout Unlimited called Trout in the Classroom. MCD paid for the equipment that local teachers need to help students raise trout from eggs to young fish. The students complete the project with a field trip to the Mad River to release the fish into the wild.

Students release the young fish they raised during the school year into the Mad River. 

For private well owners – Test Your Well
To make sure the water that is pulled from a private well is safe for drinking, well owners need to test their water for impurities. Several counties host free Test Your Well events during the year. MCD sponsors those events and provides additional testing for pollutants like arsenic. For people who may not attend an event, MCD created an easy-to-use fact sheet on what to test for and local water testing locations.

Private well owners can make sure their water is safe for drinking through a free, private screening at Test Your Well events.

For homeowners with septic systems
It is also important for septic tank owners to properly maintain their system. A home sewage system failure could pollute groundwater or streams. MCD created an easy-to-use fact sheet of resources for homeowners to maintain their septic systems.

For citizens who want to get involved in science
To better understand the condition of our water, MCD staff trains volunteers to collect data such as the water level of private wells, and the bugs that live in streams through a program known as Stream Team. The well level data is used by MCD to track groundwater level trends over time. The data collected on bug populations is used by local groups, such as the Mad Men of Trout Unlimited to track if rivers and streams are improving or getting more polluted over time.

Stream bugs that live in the river are a reflection of water qualilty.

For community officials
MCD offers training and resources for planning and zoning officials, to encourage them to take steps to protect their community’s water resources. The Better Site Design Planning Roundtable program walks local leaders through a series of evaluations and decisions to improve their development policies. Better policies can encourage water protection, increase the use of green infrastructure, and better protect our groundwater and rivers and streams.

For youBe Water Wise
All of us can do something to help protect our water. Even the smallest steps make a difference. Drop off your unwanted/unused prescriptions rather than throwing them out or flushing them down the drain. Pick up your pet’s waste. Use pesticides and fertilizers sparingly so the excess doesn’t run off your lawn and into rivers, lakes and streams. Even the smallest steps can help contribute to protecting our region’s water.

2019-2020 Winter Outlook

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

It’s late November, and winter 2019–2020 is right around the corner. That means it’s time to discuss the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Winter Outlook. Before I do, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at last year’s Winter Outlook and see how it fared.

Last winter
The NOAA Winter Outlook for last winter predicted a 50-50 chance of a warmer-than-normal or colder-than-normal winter in the Miami Valley. It also predicted a drier-than-normal winter in the Miami Valley. How did the outlook perform?

Not well at least on the precipitation side. Last winter in the Miami Valley turned out to be warmer than normal and much wetter than normal. In fact, MCD recorded above-average precipitation in December, January, and February, with February setting a new record high of 5.68 inches.

So, what happened? The answer lies with the position of the jet stream over the United States. In February, a persistent high pressure pattern developed over the Gulf of Alaska and the southeastern United States. This caused the jet stream to shift northward over the Ohio Valley, bringing precipitation and lots of it to the Ohio Valley, including the Miami Valley. The jet stream has a strong influence on winter storm tracks. Where the jet stream lies is where precipitation falls.

This winter
NOAA’s Winter Outlook for this winter predicts a warmer- and wetter-than-normal winter for the Miami Valley. This forecast is based upon long-term trends as well as anticipated global climate patterns.

Three of these global climate patterns are the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), and the Arctic Oscillation (AO). The problem is two of these global climate patterns (AO and MJO) are short lived and hard to predict for more than a couple of weeks at a time.

The more persistent climate pattern, ENSO, is not sending a particularly strong signal favoring warmer-than-normal or cooler-than-normal conditions this winter. In other words, there is a lot of uncertainty in the Winter Outlook this year.

Outlook for December through February

  • Odds favor above-normal temperatures for much of the United States, including much of the Ohio River Valley and most of the Miami Valley region.
  • No part of the U.S. is favored to have below-average temperatures this winter.
  • Wetter-than-average conditions are favored across the Northern Plains, Great Lakes, and most of the Ohio River Valley, including the entire Miami Valley region.
  • Drier-than-average conditions are favored in portions of the Gulf Coast and California.

Could this winter be a repeat of last winter?
Last winter was noted for above-normal precipitation in the Miami Valley. Will this coming winter be just as wet?

We know ENSO conditions between the two winters are likely to be different. But it doesn’t look like it will offer much of a signal for the upcoming winter.

A better indicator may be long-term trends, which favor warmer and wetter conditions in the Miami Valley. Winter temperatures and precipitation are trending up, according to long-term climate records.

Predicting seasonal weather conditions is difficult under the best of circumstances. Without any clear longer term global atmospheric signal, the upcoming winter has a lot of uncertainty.

Although the Winter Outlook may not be definitive, we’ll definitely do our part at MCD to manage whatever weather ENSO and the jet stream bring to our region.

Shaping up to be a year of extremes

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

It’s been a rollercoaster of a year so far weather-wise. The first six months were wet, wet, wet, followed by a very dry summer. And what can we expect these last couple months of the year in the Great Miami River Watershed.

A wet first half
2019 started out wet and remained that way through the first six months of the year. In fact, precipitation in the Miami Valley for each of the first six months of 2019 exceeded the 30-year (1981–2010) monthly average.

February precipitation set a new, all-time record high of 5.68 inches breaking the previous record high of 5.35 inches set just the year before in 2018.

The wet start to 2019 resulted in some high river flows and saturated soils.

The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) recorded 16 high-water events in the first half of 2019.That’s double our annual average! (MCD defines a high water event as any time river flows are high enough to result in water storage behind one or more of our five dams. Or when our staff takes action—such as closing a floodgate on a storm sewer—in one of our protected communities.)

Saturated soil conditions had a big impact on agriculture resulting in unplanted acreage or severe planting delays for crops.

An August story by the Columbus Dispatch reports that US Department of Agriculture statistics show “more than one in seven acres in Ohio went unplanted for farmers in the federal crop insurance program, the highest rate in the country.”

In some Ohio counties, rains prevented nearly 50 percent of the agricultural land from being planted, “making 2019 the state’s worst planting season on record,” the Dispatch reported.

Through August 2019, precipitation and runoff were on pace to set new record annual highs.
And then things changed.

A drought sets in
Mother Nature turned off the rain!

Monthly precipitation in July, August, and September fell below monthly averages. In September, drought conditions began to set in. According to the National Drought Monitor, the Miami Valley was in abnormally dry to moderate drought conditions through September. And as of Oct. 22, the region remained in moderate drought conditions. What a difference a couple of months can make!

 

According to the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA), the dry, hot conditions the Miami Valley experienced over the past couple of months was a result of a persistent ridge of high pressure over the southeastern United States.

Outlook for the remainder of 2019
What can we expect for the remainder of the year? According to NOAA’s three-month outlook, the Miami Valley can expect above-normal temperatures through December. The precipitation outlook is less clear with atmospheric circulation patterns not giving a strong signal for wetter- or drier–than-normal conditions. As usual we’ll have to wait and see how the rest of the year plays out.