Do a little (septic system maintenance) to save a lot!

By Mike Ekberg, manager for water resources monitoring and analysis

If you could spend less than $100 a year to avoid a $7,000 home repair expense, you’d do it wouldn’t you?

Consider this: It only costs about $250 to $500 every three to five years to maintain a septic system. But it can cost up to $7,000 or more to repair or replace it. Plus, a poorly maintained septic system can contaminate groundwater/drinking water and spread disease.

You can’t put a price on the health and safety of your family.

What is a septic system?
Septic systems are highly efficient, self-contained, underground wastewater treatment systems. They are commonly found in rural areas and often consist of a septic tank and a drainfield.

Do you have a septic system? You probably do if:

  • You use well water.
  • The water line coming into your home does not have a meter.
  • Your neighbors have a septic system.

Septic Smart Week
Septic Smart Week is Sept. 14-18. It’s a good time to have your system maintained and review ways to keep your system working well.

Maintain your septic system
Inspect and pump regularly
In general, your septic system should be inspected every one to three years and pumped every three to five years by a certified septic system professional.

Use water efficiently to avoid overloading the system
Consider using high-efficiency toilets and showerheads. When using the washing machine, be sure to select the proper load size to avoid using more water than needed.

Flush with care. Don’t flush anything besides human waste and toilet paper. Never flush:

  • Paints
  • Chemicals
  • Medications
  • Feminine hygiene products
  • Dental floss

Take care at the drain.

  • Never pour cooking oil or grease down the drain.
  • Never pour oil-based paints or solvents down the drain.
  • Eliminate or limit the use of a garbage disposal.
  • Never park or drive on your drainfield.
  • Plant trees an appropriate distance from your drainfield. A septic service professional can help you with the property distance.
  • Keep roof drains, sump pumps and other rainwater drainage systems away from your drainfield areas. Excess water can slow or stop the wastewater treatment process.
  • View these SepticSmart Week Quick Tip videos on the importance of properly using and maintaining your septic system.

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

Giving the Stillwater River Some Love

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

If you haven’t visited the Stillwater River firsthand, it is time you did. The Stillwater River is a special place to fish, paddle, or just enjoy some beautiful scenery.

Ohio’s only National Water Trail and State Scenic River

Designated as both a National Water Trail and a State Scenic River, the Stillwater River and Greenville Creek system are the only river segments in Ohio that have been awarded both of these special distinctions.

Ohio’s scenic river program recognizes high quality natural streams and helps protect them for future generations. The National Park Service’s National Water Trail program recognizes rivers and streams with plentiful public access for river recreation. Together, that makes the Stillwater River one of the best Ohio has to offer.

Greenville Falls

Premier outdoor recreation 

The Stillwater River and its tributaries offer diverse recreation fun.

  • World-class fishing, including some of Ohio’s premier smallmouth bass habitat
  • 60+ miles of flatwater for beginning and intermediate paddlers
  • Beautiful riverside parks managed by Darke County Park District, Miami County Park District, and Five Rivers MetroParks
  • Fun nature education at Brukner Nature Center in Troy, and Aullwood Audubon in Dayton
  • Scenic waterfalls on Greenville Creek

Stay Safe

And anytime we talk about river adventures, we need to talk about river safety. A few small steps can ensure your next experience on the Stillwater River—or any river for that matter—is a fun and safe one.

  • Do not enter the water when river levels are high or water is moving fast. Most people underestimate the power of water.
  • Always wear a life jacket while paddling.

Use our Stillwater River water trail map to learn more about staying safe on the river.

She is putting on the most important piece of river gear. Always wear a life jacket when paddling the Stillwater River.

The health of the Stillwater River

So the Stillwater River offers exceptional river recreation. But what about the condition of the river?

When Ohio designated the Stillwater River as a Scenic River in 1975, it was considered to be in “excellent” or “good” condition. As with virtually every water body in the country, land uses in recent years threaten the water quality and condition of the habitat. Despite the challenges, the Ohio EPA reports that 52 percent of the Stillwater River and its major tributaries meet Ohio water quality standards.

One of the most common threats to the Stillwater River is nutrients. Nitrogen and phosphorus enter waterways when it rains, impacting water quality. Both are found in fertilizers, animal waste, sewage, and wastewater. These problems can be reduced by fencing livestock out of streams and rivers, better fertilizer management, properly maintaining septic systems, and improvements to wastewater treatment.

The Stillwater River and its tributaries have also been heavily impacted by physical, man-made changes. Removal of stream side forests can increase erosion of the stream banks. When the shape of the stream is changed from a natural, meandering shape to a straight channel, habitat is destroyed.

More than half of the Stillwater River and its tributaries meet Ohio water quality standards.

MCD and the Stillwater River

Keeping rivers healthy is a big part of MCD’s water stewardship efforts. We collaborate with schools, communities and local groups to protect the river. We:

  • Track nutrient and other pollutant levels in the Stillwater River.
  • Sponsor trash cleanups on the river.
  • Educate homeowners on proper maintenance of home sewage treatment systems.
  • Partner with communities that manage wastewater treatment to explore new approaches to wastewater management.

We’re working to keep the Stillwater River healthy for you, your family and generations to come. You can help with these simple water wise actions. Let’s give the Stillwater River some big love in return for all it gives us.

PFAS Part I — the forever chemicals

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resource monitoring and analysis

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where does the Miami Valley get its water?

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

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

Together, we can protect our water.

 

The one thing private well owners should do

By Mike Ekberg, manager of water resources monitoring and analysis

If you own a private well, do you have it tested at least annually? You should. Your family’s health depends on it.

Just because your water tastes good doesn’t mean it is good. If you want to be sure your drinking water is safe, you need to have it tested.

Test at least annually
The National Ground Water Association (NGWA) recommends well owners test their water at least annually for bacteria, nitrates, and contaminants specific to your area. Consider more frequent testing if:

• There is a change in taste, odor, or appearance of well water.
• The well has a history of contamination.
• The well is near a septic system.
• There have been recurring incidents of gastrointestinal illness.
• An infant is living in the home.
• Home water treatment equipment has been installed.

In our area, I recommend the following tests:

Total Coliform – Coliform bacteria is an indication of potential disease-causing bacteria or viruses in well water. Not all coliform bacteria is harmful, but the presence of coliform bacteria in well water may be an indication that water from the land surface is directly entering the well. Coliform bacteria may also indicate the presence of contamination from human or animal waste.
E. coli – E. coli bacteria is a specific indication of contamination from human or animal waste in the well. Its presence is a warning that disease-causing bacteria or viruses may be present in the well water.

Nitrate – Nitrate gets into drinking water from fertilizers, manure, and septic systems. It also occurs naturally. High nitrate levels present a health concern for infants if water is given to babies under 12 months old––mixed with formula or otherwise. Boiling water before feeding doesn’t reduce nitrate levels.. High nitrate levels can also suggest other toxins such as bacteria and pesticides.

Arsenic – Arsenic is naturally occurring in groundwater. It’s linked to various cancers and other health issues.

Manganese – Manganese also occurs in nature and can be present in groundwater. At high enough levels, it may cause brain damage.

Lead – Lead typically gets into drinking water from corroded pipes and plumbing fixtures. If your home was built prior to 1986, it’s more likely to have lead pipes, fixtures, and solder.

To help you get started, MCD partners with various counties and soil and water conservation districts to offer free, confidential well water sampling for nitrate, nitrite, and iron through Test Your Well events.

Test Your Well events are scheduled throughout the year in various counties. The next Test Your Well event will be held on Monday, Mach 10, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Collinsville Community Center for Butler and Preble county residents.

Find a testing lab and view more resources

For more information about Test Your Well, visit our website or contact me at (937) 223-1278 ext. 3237.

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.

Tait Station low dam removal begins today

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

The project to remove the Tait Station low dam begins today. Here are the latest details on the project.

Q: Why is the Tait Station low dam being removed?
The low dam is being removed for several reasons:

  • To improve the quality of the river and make better habitat for bugs and fish.
  • To eliminate a clear and present threat to public safety for those who enjoy recreational use of the Great Miami River.
  • To avoid costly repairs that are far higher than any benefit the low dam provides.

Q: Where is the dam located?
Tait Station low dam is located in Dayton, Ohio on the Great Miami River at River Mile 76.6  just downstream of the University of Dayton Arena and the Carillon Historical Park.

Q: What are the benefits to removing the low dam?
Removing the low dam will improve the ecological conditions for aquatic life, improve river safety, reduce maintenance costs, improve river recreation access, and improve the scenic beauty of the Great Miami River.

Q: How big is the dam?
The low dam is approximately 600 feet in length. The low dam is a concrete structure with flashboards across the crest to maintain the pool level above the concrete spillway.

Tait Station low dam

 

Q: What will the river look like after the dam is removed?
Hydraulic modeling of the Great Miami River after the dam is removed shows that the water depths will be only slightly lower than current conditions. A new rock structure, called a riffle, will be created across the river channel to enhance fish habitat.

Q: Who owns the dam?
The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) owns the low dam. Tait Station was constructed around 1935 by Dayton Power and Light. The dam was originally constructed to provide cooling water to support power plant production. The power plant was decommissioned in 1983. Ownership of the low dam transferred to MCD in 1990.

Q: Does the dam provide flood protection for Dayton?
The low dam does not provide flood protection, however the low dam area is located within MCD’s flood protection area. Levees are present on both sides of the river.

Q: How much would it cost to repair the dam?
The cost estimate to repair the low dam is between $5 and $8 million.

Q: How much will it cost to remove the low dam?
The total estimate cost to remove the low dam is about $1.75 million.

Q: Who is paying for the dam to be removed?
The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is fully funding the project as a mitigation solution for unavoidable stream impacts in the Great Miami River Watershed.

Q: When will the project be complete?
October of this year, depending on weather and unforeseeable conditions.

Q: Who are the project partners?
ODOT is providing project funding, design, permitting, engineering and construction. MCD is providing technical support, background data, site access, funding and support for the project. The City of Dayton, Department of Water is providing utility coordination and utility relocation. DP&L is providing utility coordination and site access.

For questions or more information contact:
Sarah Hippensteel Hall, PhD
Manager, Watershed Partnerships
shippensteel@MCDWater.org

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.

 

Private Wells – Test for a silent killer

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

There may a silent killer lurking in private wells used for drinking water. Recent groundwater studies in our region show that drinking water in up to 20 percent of private wells contains high levels of arsenic.

Long-term exposure to arsenic through drinking water is associated with multiple serious health problems. Arsenic is a known human carcinogen, linked to cancers of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate gland.

Skin lesions caused by arsenic poisoning

In addition, exposure to arsenic interferes with the immune system, impacts cardiovascular, pulmonary, neurological, and hormonal processes, and may be a contributor to the development of type 2 diabetes.

Elevated arsenic not uncommon in regional groundwater

Arsenic is an element and a minor component of the rock and soil present in local aquifers. Under the right conditions groundwater dissolves arsenic in the aquifer and carries it into wells. Public water systems must test for arsenic. If arsenic levels are high, they are required to remove it.

Unlike public water supplies, private wells usually are not routinely tested.

Drinking water comes from a private well? Get your water tested.

How can you tell if your well water has high arsenic levels in it? You can’t, not without a laboratory test. That’s why I urge well owners who use their wells for drinking water to get their water tested. A laboratory test will typically cost anywhere from $20 to $25. If you use a private well for drinking water, it’s important to test your water for arsenic. If you don’t, you run the risk of consuming drinking water with elevated levels of arsenic.

Removing arsenic

Removing arsenic from drinking water can be complex. In general, there are two major categories of removal systems, point of use (POU) and whole-house. POU arsenic removal systems remove arsenic at a single tap where the water is consumed. POU arsenic removal systems do not remove arsenic throughout the entire house. Whole-house arsenic removal systems remove arsenic at the point where water enters the house, distributing treated water throughout the entire house.

Point of use system installed under a kitchen sink. The system is a single tap reverse osmosis unit.

A recent study by the U.S. Geological Survey and MCD found the effectiveness of treatment systems in removing arsenic is largely dependent upon the arsenic level in the untreated water. The higher the arsenic level in the well, the less effective arsenic removal systems tended to be. Fortunately, studies of our regional aquifers show that most water has arsenic levels that can be removed with arsenic removal systems that are available on the market.

Currently, there are two labs in our area that will test your water. Call them for fees and more information:

Montgomery County Environmental Laboratory
4257 Dryden Road, Dayton, OH 45439
(937) 781-3016

Pace Analytical Services, Inc. – Dayton
25 Holiday Drive, Englewood, OH 45322
(800) 723-5227

 Other resources to help you understand how to test your well water

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency has a website with contact information about state-certified labs that can help with testing. Heidelberg University also offers testing services.

The Ohio State University (OSU) also offers an on-line tool to help you understand the test results. The OSU site offers a lot of information for well owners.

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.