Groundwater Guardian Green Sites — an ounce of prevention

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

Most of us go to some lengths to protect our health. We may have an annual physical to catch issues early because we know how hard it can be to fix something once it’s broken.

The same is true of our aquifer – the underground source of this region’s drinking water.

Unlike a heart that can be transplanted, we can’t replace the aquifer. Once it’s broken (contaminated), it can be enormously expensive to fix and sometimes can be beyond repair.

An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure – and more – when it comes to the aquifer.

That’s why the Goundwater Guardian Green Site designation is a program we actively encourage for groups within our 4,000-square-mile Great Miami River Watershed.

Green Site designation helps promote and protect our groundwater by recognizing organizations that are good groundwater stewards and encouraging them to install more groundwater-friendly practices.

MCD sponsors organizations that apply for Green Site designation, pays their Green Site administrative fees for two years, and reimburses organizations up to $2,000 for installing new groundwater-friendly practices.

MCD encourages new projects that protect groundwater and are located over the Buried Valley Aquifer, are located near source water areas, show measurable results, and function over a long period of time.

Share your ground-water friendly practices

The Green Site program recognizes efforts to implement, measure, and document groundwater-friendly practices related to chemical use, water use, pollution prevention, and more. Green spaces, including nature centers, education campuses, parks, golf courses, and farms have been designated Green Sites by the Groundwater Foundation

To be eligible, land managers document the environmental impact of their groundwater-friendly practices, such as:

  • Pounds of fertilizer saved annually by using hardier plants.
  • Gallons of water saved annually by using drought-tolerant plant materials.
  • Amounts of toxic substances disposed of properly, and other related items.

The Groundwater Foundation first named MCD a Groundwater Guardian Green Site in 2010. MCD’s designation covers all of its dams and flood protection features in the cities it protects, covering more than 1,780 acres.

Since 2011, MCD has assisted many communities in earning Green Site designations. Won’t you join us?

Contact me at shippensteel@mcdwater.org with questions or if you need help completing the application.

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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.

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.

 

Where’s the best tasting water in the world? Hamilton, Ohio, of course

By Mike Ekberg, water resources manager

The City of Hamilton has created the best tasting water in the world using groundwater from the Great Miami River Buried Valley Aquifer. The city received the gold medal for Best Municipal Water at the 25th anniversary Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting in West Virginia held in February.

What is this “aquifer” anyway?

Think of the Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer as a giant container with porous sand and gravel that can trap and hold water. Have you ever poured a bucket of water into sand? The sand absorbs the water quickly and it disappears from sight. A sand and gravel aquifer soaks up water in a similar way.

Where is it and where did it come from?

The buried valley aquifer generally underlies the Great Miami River and major tributaries such as the Stillwater and Mad rivers and Twin Creek.  The sand and gravel deposits that make up the buried valley aquifer were deposited by ancient rivers that existed before the present day Great Miami River took shape. These ancient rivers carried large amounts of water from melting glaciers during the end of the last ice age.

Map showing the location of the buried valley aquifer (light blue) in relation to the Great Miami River drainage area.

Map showing the location of the buried valley aquifer (light blue) in relation to the Great Miami River drainage area.

How much water?

The buried valley aquifer is the most productive aquifer in the Great Miami River Watershed. Municipal drinking water wells, like the city of Hamilton’s, can sometimes yield more than 3,000 gallons per minute. In comparison, there are many places in Ohio where wells can produce no more than 25 gallons per minute and often fewer.

Large groundwater yields are possible because:

    • Our region receives abundant annual precipitation in the form of rain and snow which resupplies the buried valley aquifer.
    • The buried valley aquifer is able to absorb large quantities of water quickly.
    • The groundwater in the buried valley aquifer interacts with the water in the Great Miami River and can supply each other with water.
    • Most of the water pumped out of the buried valley aquifer is returned to the Great Miami River Watershed when wastewater is discharged in the streams and rivers. This offsets water losses that occur when some of the water  is pumped out of the aquifer and released into another watershed. For example, groundwater is used in the production of beer, which could be shipped outside the watershed for purchase.
Graphic showing interconnected nature of the buried valley aquifer and the Great Miami River

This graphic shows the interconnected nature of the buried valley aquifer and the Great Miami River. Water normally flows from the aquifer to the river (top), but flows often reverse during floods.

How the aquifer improves our lives

Besides being the main source of drinking water for a majority of communities along the Great Miami River, the buried valley aquifer:

  • Provides our region with a safe and plentiful supply of water that can be treated to drinking water quality standards fairly inexpensively when compared with using water from a rive lake.
The buried valley aquifer is our region’s #1 source of drinking water.

The buried valley aquifer is our region’s #1 source of drinking water.

  • Supplies businesses and industry with a reliable supply of water. For example, the Miller Coors Brewery in Trenton uses water from the buried valley aquifer for its brewing process.
  • Improves the quality of life in the region by providing continuous flow to the Great Miami River even during dry periods. This flow sustains water for fish habitat and makes the Great Miami River attractive for kayaking and rowing. For example, nearly half of the annual water flow in the Great Miami River at the city of Hamilton comes from the buried valley aquifer.
  • Provides potential geothermal heating and cooling opportunities. Groundwater in the buried valley aquifer remains around 56 °F year round and can be used by geothermal heating and cooling systems.

If the water in the aquifer was polluted or depleted, our region would be less resilient in coping with drought conditions, seasonal water shortages might be more commonplace, and communities might have to pay for more expensive treatment to make the groundwater safe for drinking. .

So, while the city of Hamilton’s water received the gold medal at the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, it’s clear our buried valley aquifer made the award possible. Yes, our buried valley aquifer is worthy of a top prize.