MCD has its eye on water

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

Did you know MCD tracks precipitation, groundwater levels, and flow in rivers and streams?

This information helps MCD and its partner agencies with flood forecasting, groundwater quantity monitoring, and understanding water movement into and out of the Great Miami River Watershed.

Here’s what we tracked in 2016 and what we’ve seen in 2017.

Water in 2016

  • Precipitation for the year was right around 37 inches or about 2.5 trillion gallons of water.
    • Average annual precipitation for the Miami Valley is about 43 inches.
  • Precipitation was below average eight of 12 months in 2016.
    • August was a notable exception with nearly 6 inches of rain. The average for that month is a little more than 3 inches.
  • Runoff from the Great Miami River Watershed into the Ohio River was about 12 inches or 823 billion gallons of water. Runoff includes water from rainfall and groundwater water that seeps into the river.
    • Average annual runoff is about 15 inches.
  • Water levels in the buried valley aquifer began the year near average at most observation wells. They declined to below-average levels during the summer and then returned to average levels in the fall.
  • Water recharge to Miami Valley aquifers averaged a little more than 6 inches or about 411 billion gallons.
    • Average annual recharge for the watershed is around 8 inches. Despite the lower average for 2016, the region has an abundance of groundwater.

What are we seeing in 2017?

We’re not even halfway through the year, and precipitation and runoff are trending above average. At the end of May, MCD had recorded nine high water events this year, which is above average for the entire year. MCD recorded only five high water events during all of 2016.

MCD defines a high water event as a time when:

  • Any single dam goes into storage, meaning the elevation of the water upstream of the dam exceeds the top of the dam’s conduit.
  • Or the river at any of our cities reaches an “action stage” as defined by the MCD Emergency Action Plan, such as closing a floodgate.

All of the dams except Huffman Dam have stored floodwaters at least once this year:

  • Germantown Dam – 7 storage events
  • Englewood Dam – 9 storage events
  • Lockington Dam – 1 storage event
  • Taylorsville Dam – 1 storage event

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ohio River Forecast Center, there’s an equal chance of above- or below-average precipitation for the next three months. Beyond that, it’s anyone’s guess.

Water needs you because you need water

By Sarah Hippensteel Hall, watershed partnerships manager
Manager for Watershed Partnerships

Have you ever tried to live a day or even a half day without water? No morning shower, no morning coffee, no washing your clothes. Those are the simple inconveniences. But it’s more than that. No water for the doctor to wash her hands before treating you. No water for firefighters to save a burning house. No water for farmers to grow your food.

imagine-a-day-without-water-no-date

We take water for granted, but it’s the one thing you can’t live without for more than a few days.

You think water isn’t a big deal? Consider this:

  • 46 percent of US lakes and 43 percent of U.S. rivers are polluted and unsafe for swimming or fishing.
  • 43 percent of the US is experiencing drought conditions.
  • Around the world, 1 of 5 children that dies under the age of 5 does so from exposure to polluted water.
  • By 2025, 3.5 billion people will be facing water shortages.

We can live without a lot, but we can’t live more than a few days without water.

Safe drinking water crises across the country

Cities across the country are facing major water issues:

  • 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.
  • California communities are experiencing epic drought. Some residents have relocated because wells have run dry.
  • The City of Flint, Michigan, knows how what life is like without safe, reliable water when lead was found at unhealthy levels in its water system.
  • Residents from South Carolina to West Virginia have lost water and wastewater service because of terrible flooding.

A water main breaks every two minutes

And it’s not just a water quality or quantity issue that’s a threat. The infrastructure that brings water to our homes and takes it back for treatment after we use it is also at risk.

Many water and wastewater systems in the big cities in the U.S. were built more than 100 years ago. These systems run 24/7/365, and they are breaking down rapidly. There’s a water main break in this country every two minutes.

But this hidden infrastructure doesn’t capture the public’s interest like roads and highways. You can see when highways and streets begin to decay. You can feel a pothole. But underground water infrastructure is invisible – until a water main break leaves you without water.

Water is not just an environmental issue. It’s an economic issue, it’s a jobs issue, and it’s a health issue. And someday, it may be a national security issue.

Don’t let it get that far.

Be part of the solution – be a water advocate

value-of-water

Become a water advocate. Support stronger laws to protect your water.

We all need to take action — now. Become a water advocate:

  • Support spending to fix the problems.
  • Support stronger laws to protect your water.
  • Vote for people who care about your life and your health and will do anything to protect the one thing you can’t live without – water .

MCD is taking action and raising awareness by partnering with hundreds of organizations across the country  in the Value of Water campaign.

What’s ahead for our region’s weather?

By Mike Ekberg, Manager for Water Resources Monitoring and Analysis

In my August 1, blogpost, “Climate Change: Is It Real?” we noted that our climate is always changing. Some people want to debate the cause, but that’s not nearly as important as planning for the changes that are expected.

A warming trend will amplify the extremes in our region’s climate, according to the Third National Climate Assessment. We can expect more intense summer heat waves, more droughts, and more floods.

More rain when we don’t need it and less rain when we do
The Third National Climate Assessment says here’s what we can expect over the next 35 years:

  • Annual average temperature in our region is expected to increase as much as 4.9 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Winter and spring precipitation is expected to increase 10-20 percent.
    • We’ll see less snow and more rain.
    • Storms are likely to be stronger, increasing the chance of flooding.
  • Summer rainfall is expected to drop 8 percent, increasing the chance of droughts.
    • Summer droughts can increase water demands on utilities for lawn irrigation.
    • More frequent summer droughts can increase water demand for crop irrigation.

The Miami Valley will need to cope with intense winter and spring rain events when human water demand is low. Likewise, we’ll need to cope with hotter – and sometimes drier – summers when human water demand is high.

Making changes now key to coping in the future
How can our region successfully cope with these challenges?

Planning and wise infrastructure investment is the key. Here are some steps communities in our region can take to prepare for a warmer future.

  • Minimize paved surfaces to reduce flash flooding and streambank erosion.
  • Encourage infiltration areas such as pervious pavement, rain gardens, and drainage swales to reduce urban runoff.
  • Install flood warning systems in areas prone to flash flooding.

    rain garden

    Rain gardens reduce storm water runoff by using the rain water on your property, allowing it to soak into the ground and recharge the aquifer.

  • Invest in more water storage to meet summer demands.
  • Manage summer water demand through regulations, rate structures, or consumer incentives.
  • Use the most efficient irrigation technologies to reduce summer water demand.
  • Provide cooling shelters for people who do not have access to air conditioning during summer heat waves.

The time to act is now
Taking steps now is the key to preparing for a changing world. Our region is fortunate to have sufficient water resources and should be able to weather the forecasted changes if we manage those resources well. If we don’t prepare now, we’ll be playing catch up later, and that could prove to be costly.

 

Changes in groundwater levels?

By Mike Ekberg, Manager for Water Resources Monitoring and Analysis

Groundwater levels in the aquifer beneath downtown Dayton fluctuate throughout the year. Locally, groundwater levels often peak in winter or spring and decline to their annual low in the fall. However, we’re seeing changes to the normal up-and-down cycle of groundwater in the aquifer in a couple of downtown wells.

Graphic of depth to groundwater

Groundwater levels fluctuate throughout the year. But the annual low groundwater level at the Apple Street and South Main Street observation well shows a decline over the past 25 years.

The annual low groundwater levels in two downtown observation wells are showing a distinct downward trend, declining as much as 25 feet over the past 10 years. In fact, recent groundwater levels at both wells tend to be below monthly normals for much of the year. What’s causing the drop?

Geothermal systems may be the reason
An increase in geothermal heating and cooling systems in Dayton may be the cause. In the last 15 years or so, several buildings in downtown Dayton installed open loop geothermal systems. Open loop systems pull groundwater from high-capacity wells —tied to the aquifer beneath Dayton—to create heat and air conditioning.

If too many geothermal systems draw water from the same area, that could cause a significant drop in average groundwater levels. That’s happening now in these two wells in downtown Dayton. And yet, these wells—and the Dayton area–still have plenty of groundwater

Water supply safe
Is the aquifer going to go dry? Not likely. The buried valley aquifer, which stores this region’s groundwater, holds 1.5 trillion gallons of water. That said, in areas where a lot of groundwater is pulled from the aquifer, it’s possible for one well to cause another well to go dry. This situation is most likely to occur during summer months when water demand for cooling systems peak.

MCD tracks groundwater levels at more than 100 monitoring wells in the region. The City of Dayton tracks groundwater levels at more than 300 monitoring wells throughout its well fields and within the aquifer. City officials say their well field areas are not impacted by the pumping of groundwater downtown.

Can geothermal systems continue to be a workable option for Dayton buildings? Yes, provided there’s a plan to balance the number of systems and well locations.

Better water planning prevents problems
Steps to ensure this balance include:

  1. Inventory high-capacity geothermal wells in the downtown area.
  2. Fully understand current groundwater levels throughout the area.
  3. Assess the potential impact of new geothermal wells on existing wells and storm sewers.
  4. Site wells strategically.

With these steps, Dayton—and other cities—can ensure existing geothermal systems will not be harmed by adding new systems, and all the systems will be sustainable.

 

Stream Gages: Commitment yields benefits

In our last blog post, “Gauging the Value of Gages,” we discussed the importance of stream gages to The Miami Conservancy District’s (MCD) flood protection activities. Now let’s talk about the importance of stream gage information on riverfront development, infrastructure projects, public safety, and water quality.

Stream gage network benefits

Stream gages provide reliable estimates of peak river flows that must be incorporated into engineering designs for infrastructure in floodplains and river channels. The infrastructure includes everything from levees, bridges, bikeways, boat ramps and docks, riverfront parks, kayak runs, and water and wastewater treatment plants. Imagine the implications of building riverfront projects and bridges without knowing how high the river will rise.

Stream gage information allows recreational paddlers and boating clubs to determine whether or not it’s safe to go out on the river. It is also used to determine when river corridor bikeways are dry and safe or whether portions are under water.

FEMA uses river studies to develop more accurate FEMA floodplain maps. Those river studies rely on data from stream gages.

Wastewater treatment plant permits regarding discharging pollutants into waterways are often based on certain river flows. Stream gages can be used to determine these river flows.

How a stream gage works

A stream gage measures the elevation of the water surface at a particular point in the river channel (not the entire river channel). We call the elevation of the water surface the stream or river stage.

Stream gages do not directly measure flow. To measure flow, MCD staff goes into the river with instruments that measure discharge – usually measured as cubic feet per second.

Discharge measurement on Holes Creek near Kettering

An MCD staff member takes a discharge measurement on Holes Creek near Kettering.

If we measure the discharge in the river channel over a wide range of river stages, we can develop a mathematical relationship between stream stage and discharge that estimates the amount of discharge for any given stage.

This relationship is called a rating curve. Once the rating curve is developed for a stream gage, we can determine reliable estimates of river flows.

This is important because it is not cost-effective, practical, or safe to send staff into the river every time that information is needed. Steam gages measure stage on a real-time basis, so with the rating curve, stream flow can be estimated on a real-time basis. Historic records of actual stream flow conditions allow us to predict future conditions, including peak flows.

The Great Miami River Watershed Stream Gage Network

The stream gage network in the Great Miami River Watershed consists of 25 stream gages. These gages are also part of the United States Geological Survey (USGS) national stream gaging network. MCD purchases most of the equipment and provides most of the field labor to maintain the gages. USGS manages the data, providing the ability to transmit data through GOES satellites, and allowing users to access the data through the National Water Information System (NWIS).

This stream gage network is funded by a combination of federal and local funding sources. Federal funds are provided by USGS and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Local funding is provided by MCD.

Protect the value of stream gages

Everyone needs stream gaging information to support good engineering design and flood forecasting. A reliable stream gage network is integral for regional efforts to improve flood preparedness, develop new riverfront corridors in our cities, improve water quality, and support recreation on our rivers and streams. Without the network, we would be flying blind.

Most people think information that comes from stream gages is just a matter of installing a sensor somewhere and letting it do its thing. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. It takes time – lots of time, if you do it right. And that costs money, from equipment to staff time.

Each year, funding for the national stream gage network is threatened with cuts to the federal budget. Please let your local congressman know it’s important to protect and support our system of stream gages and data transmission satellites so it continues to provide our region with valuable water information.

Gauging the value of stream gages

For almost 100 years, communities along the Great Miami River have been protected by a system of dams and levees built by MCD. The system is an engineering masterpiece.

Since their completion in 1922, the dams and levees have protected riverfront communities from Piqua to Hamilton with a 100 percent success rate! To maintain and properly operate this system, MCD needs accurate and up-to-date information about river levels and how weather will impact the Great Miami River and its tributaries.

Stream gage at Franklin – The gage is mounted to the side of a bridge over the Great Miami River. The gage uses a radar sensor to measure the distance to the water surface below.

Stream gage at Franklin – The gage is mounted to the side of a bridge over the Great Miami River. The gage uses a radar sensor to measure the distance to the water surface below.

MCD and United States Geological Survey (USGS) collect information at 25 locations along the river. Each location features a stream gage that collects river flow information. These stream gages are part of a national network of stream gages maintained by USGS. Stream gages are located along the Great Miami River in most of the cities MCD protects.

The gages transmit hourly information on the amount of water in the river channel (elevation or height of water surface in the river). MCD staff uses information from the stream gages during high water events to determine when to close flood gates, measure groundwater levels beneath levees, and inspect levees for signs of erosion or underseepage caused by high river levels. MCD’s stream gage information also is used by the National Weather Service, recreationalists, and businesses and contractors working near or in the river channel.

MCD floodgate in Miamisburg - The wheel at the top of the concrete box closes the floodgate below to prevent river water from flowing into the landward side of the levee.

MCD floodgate in Miamisburg – The wheel at the top of the concrete box closes the floodgate below to prevent river water from flowing into the landward side of the levee.

Closing flood gates is one of the most important tasks MCD staff does during a high water event. Floodgates are normally left open so that runoff from city streets and parking lots can flow through the levee and into the river. When the river rises high enough, however, water can flow backwards through the floodgate and into city streets, threatening to flood areas protected by the levee. MCD staff close floodgates to prevent this from happening, and timing is critical.

The National Weather Service’s Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service (AHPS) uses MCD’s stream gage information – along with other vital data – for its daily river forecasts, which are available online. AHPS incorporates information from stream gages and weather forecasts into models that predict future river flows. River forecasts wouldn’t be possible without stream gages.

Timely river forecasts allow MCD to plan ahead and take actions necessary to prevent communities from flooding. Knowing current and predicted river levels is integral to operating MCD’s flood protection system.

Our region is fortunate to have a stream gage network that provides this critical information. In a future blog I’ll talk more about how stream gages work.

Good news/bad news: Water use declining in our region

By Mike Ekberg, Water Resources Manager

Water use declined in the Great Miami River Watershed by 50 percent between 2005 and 2013, which mirrors a national trend.* With the dire predictions for water shortages in other parts of the world, this may seem like good news for our region, but there are consequences.

Great Miami River Watershed map

Great Miami River Watershed: All of the land in green drains to the Great Miami River.

The good news is that we are wasting less water and using it more efficiently in industrial, commercial and agriculture processes. Having plenty of water means this region is better prepared for future unpredictable weather patterns.

Declines in water use, however, also happen when industries or businesses close or move out of the region. Decreased water use could mean there is less demand for water. Less demand means fewer water customers.

Most water utilities have rate structures that charge customers based upon the amount of water used. As customers use more water, revenues increase. But fewer customers don’t translate into fewer expenses because the same amount of infrastructure is required to deliver the water to users.

Some water industry experts refer to this trend as the ‘conservation conundrum’ where declining water demand creates significant financial challenges for water utilities that are faced with rising costs to maintain and repair aging infrastructure. These costs must be recovered from a shrinking customer base.

Water Use in the Great Miami River Watershed

In 2005, total water use in the region was 580 million gallons of water per day. By 2013, water use declined to just over 290 million gallons per day.

Water uses in Ohio are grouped into seven categories: public drinking water, golf course irrigation, power generation, agricultural use, industry, mineral extraction, and miscellaneous uses. From 2005 to 2013, use of water in our region declined in most categories.

Water use statistics from ODNR Water Withdrawal Facilities Registration database

Water use statistics from ODNR Water Withdrawal Facilities Registration database

According to a recent report by the United States Geological Survey (USGS), public drinking water use declined by 5 percent nationally from 2005 to 2010. In our region, it declined by 15 percent, from 2005 to 2013.

Locally, power generation saw the greatest decrease in water use. Water used for power generation declined by 90 percent over the eight-year time period. Most of this reduction came from the decommissioning of Dayton Power & Light’s Hutchins Power Station.  Water used for mineral extraction and for industrial production declined by 69 percent and 55 percent, respectively. The only significant increase in water use occurred in agriculture (15 percent).

Water Use Nationally

Water use statistics in the Great Miami River Watershed mirror a national trend of declining water use. Water use in the United States was at 355 billion gallons of water per day in 2010. This was the lowest water use in the United States has been since the 1960s.

The reduction likely is due to several reasons, including industry’s efforts to conserve water to reduce expenses, a shift from coal (which uses a lot of water) to more energy-efficient fuels, and the increase of energy efficient appliances in homes.

Looking Ahead

Given the statistics, our region isn’t expected to face water shortages anytime soon. This is an opportunity to attract additional responsible water users to our region. The challenge for water utility managers in this area will be to figure out how to generate sufficient revenue to maintain and improve existing infrastructure in a world that will continue to become more water efficient. This may require rethinking traditional business models and rate structures.

*Even California, which is in a serious drought, has seen reduced water usage. The challenge in California is that despite conservation efforts, the state still uses more water than it receives from rain and snow.