A new plan to protect local water
- Published: April 26, 2018
What should the Village of Yellow Springs do to protect its water supply?
Stay vigilant about pollution threats, test local water more often and educate citizens to prevent groundwater pollution, according to the Environmental Commission’s recent update of a 2001 plan.
The update to the Wellhead Protection Plan, drafted by the Environmental Commission, or EC, at Village Council’s urging, contains both good news and areas of ongoing concern, according to EC member Deanna Newsom, who presented the update at Council’s April 2 meeting.
The good news is that no new sources of potential pollution have been found in the wellhead protection area. But previously-identified potential threats are still there, such as the Morris Bean and Company aluminum foundry and residential lawn care chemicals, according to Newsom in an interview this week.
Overall, the Village should do more to protect the source of local drinking water, Newsom said, especially since the local aquifer is highly susceptible to pollution due to geologic factors.
“We need to be more vigilant,” said Newsom, who drafted the update. “This is the water that our children are drinking. We have to be sure we’re getting it right.”
Approved by Council in 2001 after a process that began in 1990 was mired in controversy over cost and other issues, the Wellhead Protection Plan was never systematically implemented, according to a 2012 News article.
Newsom, a local conservation scientist with a background in ecology and sustainable agriculture, hopes the new update, the first of several planned by EC, will lead to more oversight and citizen involvement. For one, the Village should test its wells for a greater number of contaminants and do so on a more regular basis, she said.
“I’m a believer in data and at this point we need more of it,” Newsom said, adding “We need to make sure we’re looking for the right pollutants,” particularly of potential contaminants from Morris Bean.
Brad Ault, the Village’s water and wastewater superintendent, said this week that while the Village complies with all Environmental Protection Agency regulations for water testing, he believes the Village has needed to step up its monitoring for some time. The new water treatment plant, with its on-site laboratory, now affords the opportunity for increased testing, he added.
“We have this new plant and we need to be monitoring our wells,” Ault said.
Citizens can also play a role in protecting the watershed, by eschewing lawn chemicals and recycling hazardous products, including paint, gasoline and motor oil, instead of pouring them down drains or storm sewers, according to a new brochure developed by EC.
“Educating citizens about preventing groundwater pollution in their day-to-day lives is one way to promote clean drinking water,” Newsom wrote in an email.
Identified in the 2001 plan as the highest-risk potential pollution source in the wellhead protection area, Morris Bean was the primary focus of the plan’s first update. Future updates will look at the strategies for protecting the watershed from agricultural chemicals, septic tanks and other pollution threats, according to Newsom.
The Wellhead Protection Program (now called the Source Water Assessment and Protection Program), was added to the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1986. Although it is technically a voluntary EPA program, municipalities must have an EPA-endorsed plan to make any upgrades to its municipal wellfield.
Council unanimously approved the Yellow Springs Wellhead Protection Management Plan Update at its April 2 meeting.
Keeping an eye on Morris Bean
Approximately one mile north of the Village wellfield, Morris Bean has operated an aluminum foundry at its 60-acre property on Hyde Road in Miami Township since 1949. In fact, the initial thrust for developing a local wellhead protection plan came after volatile organic chemicals, or VOCs, from Morris Bean’s process were discovered in Village production and monitoring wells and in springs in the Glen Helen Nature Preserve, starting in 1988.
Ongoing VOC detections in groundwater in the 1990s prompted an EPA groundwater cleanup at Morris Bean, which concluded in 2009. But two other pollution issues have become critical at Morris Bean in recent years, according to the plan update, one of which has been resolved.
The first issue was the company’s aging onsite sanitary sewer plant, which the Ohio EPA had been recommending that Morris Bean upgrade or replace since the 1990s. After an inspection in 2014, the sanitary sewer plant was found to be releasing twice the suspended solids into a nearby stream as permitted by the EPA, and by 2016 parts of the sewer plant were discovered by the EPA to be falling apart. Village Council agreed in 2016 to connect Morris Bean to its sewage treatment plant after several years of balking at the request. Morris Bean dismantled its onsite plant and connected to the Village’s sewer last year, incurring the full cost of the lift station and tap-in, resolving that pollution concern, according to the plan update.
Another concern, which arose only recently, is the development of sinkholes downstream of where Morris Bean discharges its process wastewater, or water used in the process of casting aluminum parts and cleaning equipment. Because the wastewater entered the sinkholes and went directly into groundwater rather than flowing along the surface to an unnamed tributary of the Little Miami River, the EPA found Morris Bean to be in violation of its discharge permit.
A sinkhole was discovered on the southwestern edge of Morris Bean’s property by the EPA during an inspection in 2013. Morris Bean filled the sinkhole, but in 2016 the EPA was notified by a citizen that another sinkhole had formed. While Morris Bean fixed the second sinkhole, yet another sinkhole, this one just off of the Morris Bean property, was observed in the fall of 2017 by environmental chemist Audrey McGowin of Wright State University, who was sampling the water with students.
Newsom, who toured the Morris Bean site last November, was told by a Morris Bean representative that a recent inspection in December 2017 showed no new sinkholes on its property. To be sure that sinkholes are reported and fixed as quickly as possible, the plan update recommends that Morris Bean conduct monthly sinkhole surveys and report the results to the Village manager. The update also recommends that Morris Bean notify the Village manager in the case of a spill or other emergency. Currently, Morris Bean’s plan is to notify the Ohio EPA and Greene County Emergency Response.
Although Morris Bean may not have to comply with the update’s recommendations, Newsom was encouraged that Morris Bean had been cooperative and helpful during her research, and might agree to the plan’s suggestions.
“I don’t think they’re under any obligation to implement the recommendations, but we hope in the spirit of being a good neighbor, that they would,” Newsom said.
The Ohio EPA has also encouraged the Village and Morris Bean to work together “to protect drinking water resources in such a sensitive geologic setting,” according to one 2013 letter sent to both the Village and Morris Bean.
“As you are aware, Morris Bean is located in the Village’s source water protection area and the aquifer that supplies drinking water to the Village is highly susceptible to contamination,” the letter states. It also notes the presence of “preferential pathways that could allow potential contaminants to migrate through the shallow, fractured bedrock to the Village’s wells.”
Referencing the protective strategies outlined in the 2001 Wellhead Protection Plan, the letter continues, “Ohio EPA encourages both entities to again work together to implement these protective strategies to better protect the Village’s water supply from potential threats.”
Aquifer abundant, susceptible
Local drinking water originates underground in a buried valley aquifer south of town. The water is drawn from two wells at a time, each more than 100 feet underground, treated nearby at the Village’s new $7.2 million water treatment plant that opened last year and pumped to the water towers at Gaunt Park and then on to homes and businesses.
The wellfield, which includes four production wells and two monitoring wells, is located just west of the Little Miami River at the southern edge of Miami Township and accessible off of Jacoby Road. The wellhead — or source water — protection area is the immediate area upgradient of those wells. Determined by the hydrogeology and the rate at which water is pumped out of the aquifer, it consists of a one- and a five-year time-of-travel area, with a larger capture zone that includes a section of the southern and western part of Yellow Springs.
For the most part, the region’s abundant rain and snow recharges the aquifer, but the water can also come from surface water sources, springs, stream infiltration and the inflow of groundwater from adjacent bedrock, according to the 2001 plan.
Ironically, the original plan noted, the very qualities that make the local aquifer so productive make it susceptible to contamination. One particular quality is the aquifer’s high permeability, the plan noted.
As the Ohio EPA has reminded the Village in letters dating back to 1998, the aquifer has a “high susceptibility to contamination,” which the agency has written is due to the lack of any geologic barrier between the surface and the aquifer, the shallow depth to water, existing contaminant sources in the area and past VOC detections.
Newsom said villagers should be aware of their aquifer’s vulnerability.
“People need to know that what is underlying the wellfield and this whole region is very porous and very susceptible to pollution,” Newsom said. “If a threat does arise, this type of hydrogeology means that pollutants can enter our water quickly and easily, compared to regions with a more confined aquifer.”
The source water protection area should be redefined in future updates because modeling methods have evolved since the original plan laid them out and because of the “hydrogeologic complexity” of the area underlying the wellfield and capture zone, Newsom added.
One reason the plan update didn’t endeavor to redraw the lines was because Village water use has declined significantly since 1998. In fact, Village water production dropped by one-third over the last 20 years to its current level of 300,000 gallons per day.
Stepping up local water testing
Every day the Village tests the water leaving its treatment plant for chlorine levels, hardness, alkalinity, pH and conductivity, and bacteria is measured weekly, according to Ault, the water and wastewater superintendent. But other water testing is more infrequent. The EPA visits the water treatment plant once each year and tests the raw water coming from wells for a few contaminants, he said. In 2017 that test included nitrate, fluoride and barium, which were all found at levels well below the EPA’s maximum contaminant level. Lead and copper have only been tested every other year, according to Ault, although that testing schedule may be changing.
Overall, Ault believes that the EPA’s mandated testing is not sufficient, and has begun discussions with an outside consultant to arrange additional testing in local wells. To Ault, the use of the monitoring wells for testing is the best approach.
“You want to test it before it gets to the well,” Ault said. “Testing at the well is good but is not really ideal.”
Newsom agrees. The update recommends testing “relevant VOCs and other by-products of industrial processes” semi-annually.
“We think it makes sense to increase the number of chemicals we’re monitoring, and boost the frequency of monitoring to every six months,” Newsom said.
To read the original 2001 plan, its update and selected EPA documents related to Morris Bean, visit https://www.ysnews.com.