MIAMI COUNTY — The Miami Conservancy District (MCD) presented its eight-year Water Stewardship report to the Board of Miami County Commissioners this week, providing an update on rainfall, water usage, nutrient pollution in rivers and streams, and more.
MCD has a system of five dams and 55 miles of levees, and on Tuesday, Mike Ekberg, MCD’s manager for water resource monitoring, discussed how MCD also monitors the region’s water supply.
“Miami Conservancy District has really established a whole watershed-wide monitoring network system where we look closely at the quantity and quality of water in this area,” Ekberg said. He said the majority of local communities use ground water, or aquifers, as their source for drinking water. The city of Piqua is one of the few that uses surface water. MCD’s water monitoring system includes a stream gauging system that monitors the flows in local rivers, approximately 100 observation wells, a network of rainfall observers, and more.
MCD’s Water Stewardship report notes the water available within the Great Miami River Watershed — a 3,946-square-mile area in southwest Ohio — is “abundant, high-quality water,” but that water supply is still “vulnerable and could be threatened.”
The report lists a number of challenges, including the following:
• There are more frequent and intense rain events. MCD’s report notes “precipitation and runoff are trending upward” with the average annual precipitation increasing approximately five inches over the last 30 years. MCD notes this means the area is “unlikely to be susceptible to long-term water shortages,” but this region could also experience more flooding in areas without the protection of MCD dams and levees. A suggestion for alleviating flooding issues is using “green engineering,” such as pervious surfaces in parking lots and “rain gardens,” that would allow more water to drain to aquifers instead of adding to surface water.
• Water usage is trending downward, as much as 50 percent over the last 20 years, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. This is likely due to water-efficient plumbing installations and a decline regionally in manufacturing. MCD’s report notes this could result in a loss of revenue for water utilities at a time when there is increasing costs for maintaining infrastructure.
• Nutrient pollution in rivers and streams is an issue that can result in algae growth, “deadly conditions” for fish and other aquatic life, and toxic water “unsafe for human contact.” According to MCD, “Nitrogen and phosphorus levels in local rivers and streams are too high.” Sarah Hippensteel Hall, PhD, manager of MCD’s Watershed Partnerships discussed with the Miami County Commissioners how MCD has worked with farmers and other local producers to reduce nutrient application to the ground and keep fertilizer on the land where it needs to be for crops. Other sources of nutrient pollution include “water reclamation facilities, home sewage treatment systems, and lawn application.”
• Nutrients in the water can also impact groundwater. Another source impacting water supplies is road salt, which the MCD said that high levels of chloride from road salt can impact the taste of drinking water and make water “more corrosive to lead and copper in pipes. MCD’s report also says private wells and septic tank systems need to be maintained properly to keep high levels of nitrate from affecting the well water.
MCD’s report also suggests owners of private wells have those wells tested as an MCD groundwater study showed 20 percent of private wells with drinking water in the region had “high levels of naturally occurring arsenic.” Long-term exposure to arsenic through drinking water is associated with various health risks.
• Other challenges this region’s water supply faces include the destruction of natural stream habitats — such as through projects that straighten a stream’s channel and/or remove trees and brush from a stream’s channel — as well as micropollutants, such as human-made compounds. MCD’s report notes only “trace amounts” of those compounds are being found in surface water and aquifers.
The work behind this report is funded through MCD’s aquifer preservation subdistrict, which Hall said they rebranded as MCD’s Water Stewardship program. Nine counties pay into this fund through assessments.
“We want your input on this program moving forward,” Hall told the commissioners this week. “It will be reauthorized in 2020. We want to make sure we’re meeting the needs of your constituents and your water concerns.” Hall said the commissioners have until March 1 to provide that input, after which MCD’s board of directors will take their input into consideration.
According to MCD’s report, MCD can also help communities address water issues by doing the following:
• Fully implement a community’s source water protection plan.
• Encourage land developers to use green alternatives to manage stormwater and filter runoff.
• Support voluntary incentives for farmers to reduce nutrient runoff.
• Include water management in short- and long-range community planning.
• Keep water protection at the top of your community’s priorities.
• Write local land-use policies that protect water.
• Advocate for federal investment in water infrastructure upgrades.
• Build awareness of the importance of protecting this region’s water.
For more information, visit mcdwater.org. For additional information about MCD’s water studies, visit bit.ly/WaterStudies.