The type of crisis that forced Toledo to shut off its taps earlier this month is unlikely to happen in Springfield, but the potential for toxic algae to harm this region’s massive supply of clean water has prompted one local agency to update its monitoring protocol.
The Miami Conservancy District works to preserve water quality in the region, including the Mad River in Clark and Champaign counties. But until recently it had not been concerned about microcystin, the cyanobacteria that prompted the state’s fourth-largest city to warn its residents to not drink their water for more than two days.
“It’s tended to be more of a lake issue and folks have not been looking for (harmful algal blooms) on rivers. But we are going to begin to do microcystin screening at some of our monitoring stations very soon,” said Mike Ekberg, the conservancy district’s manager in charge of monitoring and analysis.
Testing will be done at a number of the district’s fixed nutrient testing sites, including on the Mad River near Huffman Dam in Greene County, but not at any of the areas it oversees in Clark County, he said.
Springfield’s water department has no current plans to start testing for microcystin, Water Superintendent Al Jones said.
That’s because the city’s 12 wells that draw from the aquifer that supplies Springfield’s water aren’t affected by the surface water in the Mad River.
Toxic algae isn’t an issue for areas like Springfield that get water from underground sources, Jones said, as opposed to places like Toledo that pull water from a lake.
“You don’t get high concentrations in ground water, even with surface influx, because of the filtering capacity of the sand and gravel that the water passes through,” said John Ritter, Wittenberg University professor and department chairman of geomorphology and environmental geology.
Aquifer holds 1 trillion gallons of water
The Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer, estimated to hold at least 1 trillion gallons of water, lies beneath 15 counties, including Clark and Champaign counties. While it likely won’t be affected by toxic algae, which requires sunlight to thrive, the aquifer is considered in some areas to be “under the influence of surface water.”
That led the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to declare that parts of the aquifer have a “high susceptibility to contamination.”
That designation was made partly because the aquifer lies close to the surface in some areas and has only a thin layer of clay to protect its gravel and sand base.
The Ohio EPA also has placed parts of the Great Miami River in Dayton, Piqua and Sidney on its “watch list” due to high nitrate and pesticide indicators.
But the section of the aquifer that lies beneath Clark and Champaign counties isn’t considered to be at the same level of risk, Jones said.
“We performed some micro-particulate analysis (in the ’90s) to see if the water should be considered ‘under the influence’,” he said, and that section of the aquifer didn’t need that designation.
Treating the water
Public water systems are required to treat water before it is sold to the public. Although much of the water pumped directly from the aquifer might be safe to drink, extra precautions are taken.
“By the time it gets to a customer’s tap, it’s been through multiple lines of testing and oversight and regulation from the Ohio EPA,” said Brianna Wooten of Montgomery County Environmental Services. “It’s very well-regulated.”
Springfield’s water treatment plant, located on Eagle City Road, was constructed in 1958 and utilizes lime softening, rapid sand filtration and disinfection. Clark County purchases water services from the city.
The plant produces an average of 12 million gallons of water per day.
Public water systems test for many substances, from fluoride and nitrates to lead and copper.
Even byproducts of the chemicals used to treat the water are tested. Chlorine, for example, produces haloacetic acids, trihalomethanes and chloroform, so chlorine use is carefully monitored.
The Springfield Conservancy District, which is mainly concerned with maintaining water quality in Buck Creek, doesn’t test for microcystin, mainly because the creek is a fast moving body of water that isn’t ideal for algae growth.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources tests the water in the C.J. Brown Reservoir for nutrients and toxins, according to Chris Simpson, administrator for the Clark Soil and Water Conservative District, but that water has no connection to the underground aquifer.
“It’s just for flood control,” Simpson said.
Other standing bodies of water, like the lagoons at Old Reid Park, are susceptible to invasive plant species and algae, according to the Springfield Conservancy District. It has been working to treat those bodies of water for the past two summers, but the water there also doesn’t have any influence on local drinking water.
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