Protecting Clark County’s water: How two recent issues are affecting water sources

Donnelsville resident Tracy Griffin examines her water filtration system. Griffin is one of the 20 percent of residents with contaminated water. JENNA LAWSON/STAFF

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Donnelsville resident Tracy Griffin examines her water filtration system. Griffin is one of the 20 percent of residents with contaminated water. JENNA LAWSON/STAFF

Mad River Twp. residents fear impact of proposed mining project on their water.

Donnelsville residents might be one step closer to finally getting access to clean water in their homes, but the process could take years to complete.

Meanwhile, many residents who live in or around Mad River Twp. filled the Clark County Commission meeting Wednesday morning to voice concerns over a proposed lawsuit settlement that would have allowed a company to begin mining for limestone. One of the arguments against allowing the mining is the potential for negative impact on the Mad River and its water, according to residents.

The commissioners elected to decline the settlement offer posed by Enon Sand and Gravel and the lawsuit continues to make its way through the Clark County court system.

READ: Solvent in Donnelsville wells poses health risk

The two developments in recent weeks underline an important issue township and county leaders have been wrestling with for decades now: how to protect Clark County water sources.

“It’s very important,” Clark County Commission President Rick Lohnes said of those resources. “It’s the number one asset.”

He said there are issues that the commission and townships need to keep an eye on, but overall, the water sources in the county are protected. He said the public water is great in Clark County.

“In most cases in the county your wells are in great shape,” Lohnes said. “We have a lot of water but we have to protect all of it from being contaminated. That’s for sure.”

Donnelsville Water Issues

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Donnelsville and its water issues have been put on a national list that allows the agency to provide federal funds to investigate and eliminate the problem of contaminated water.

RELATED: Solvent in Donnelsville wells poses health risk - Springfield News-Sun

Nearly 20 percent of the residents are affected and must use some sort of water filtration system, according to the Clark County Combined Health District. The issue dating back to the 1990's when a cancer-causing chemical was found in Donnelsville Elementary School's wells.

Even with the filtration system, some residents said they are too concerned about the quality of the water to drink it. Tracey Griffin spends about $80 a week on bottled water because she doesn’t trust the water out of the tap.

“Now there’s an odor to the water so we don’t use the water,” she said. “We don’t drink it or anything like that, so we’re still buying bottled water.”

There has been action taken. The EPA has put the water issue on a priority list.

“The next step for new national priorities list sites such as the Donnelsville Contaminated Aquifer is to determine if there are any viable potentially responsible parties for the site,” a statement from the agency says. “Once that search is completed, EPA initiates negotiations with the potentially responsible parties asking them to conduct a remedial investigation to determine the nature and extent of the contamination and a feasibility study evaluating cleanup options.”

However, finding the responsible party is complicated and will take time, the federal agency said. There is also no guarantee that a party will be identified or if identified, the party will work with the agency.

“If there are no viable responsible parties or if the parties do not agree to conduct the remedial investigation or feasibility study, EPA initiates the procedures with federal funds, pending availability,” the agency said. “The process is a multi-year process, and cleanup occurs afterward. If at any time EPA discovers immediate acute threats to human health or the environment at our sites, we can initiate a removal cleanup actions to quickly address the problem.”

The issue dates back decades, but in 2010 the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency tested multiple wells and found a chemical called PCE in 20 of them at concentrations exceeding the maximum contaminant level of 5 micrograms per liter.

PCE is a man-made chemical that is widely used for dry cleaning clothes and degreasing metal, according to the Ohio EPA.

A report by the agency at the time did identify a possible responsible party based on historical practices but didn’t name the company specifically. However, as part of the new list, the agency can work to identify who or what is responsible.

2010 REPORT: Solvent found in Donnelsville wells poses health risk

The EPA did install drinking water treatment systems in 2011 at the homes and the community park. The Clark County Combined Health District became involved as a community liaison because some residents were reluctant to have their water tested, according to Larry Shaffer, Director of Environmental Health, Clark County Combined Health District.

The EPA said it will try to be as transparent as possible during the process.

“EPA communicates with the public as needed on a site specific-basis,” the agency said in a statement. “Generally, when significant milestones are achieved, such as successful negotiations with potentially responsible parties for conducting the investigations or the initiation of an investigation, appropriate community outreach is conducted. This might include an EPA announcement/fact sheet, public meeting, and/or public availability sessions. EPA develops site-specific Community Involvement Plans, based on input received from the community, regarding how EPA will keep the community informed of the progress on priority sites.”

Donnelsville Mayor Robert Cornwell previously told the Springfield News-Sun and WHIO one solution that may need to take place is for the village to connect to Park Layne’s municipal water system.

“The only solution to this problem after everyone has looked at it – the geologists and everyone else – is municipal water,” he said.

Griffin said once the EPA finishes she hopes things will go back to normal and she can remove the filtration system from her property.

.MORE: Should Springfield fluoridate its drinking water?

“Everything will be good and we won’t have that god-awful big huge thing on my back porch,” she said.

While there will still be a wait until the issue is actually resolved, being put on the priority list is a step in the right direction, Griffin said.

“I was hoping it was gonna happen soon so this would be finished and done and we could have water back,” she said, “But …we’re going in the right direction finally after all this time.”

Enon Sand and Gravel

Kyle Peterson, of Mad River Twp., said he moved from Dayton to Clark County about a decade ago. He said residents are concerned with many parts of the Enon Sand and Gravel proposal, but the key issue is what impact the project could have on local wells and water quality in the township.

Peterson said he was glad to see the Clark County commissioners reject a proposed settlement agreement with the company Wednesday morning, despite the possibility the dispute could now be headed to court. Township officials have also opposed the mining operation.

PREVIOUS: Clark County weighs settlement with gravel company

“I’m glad they took a step back and they need to approach it from a regulation standpoint,” Peterson said.

Peterson said Enon and the Mad River are known for having good water quality, but said he’s concerned mining conducted by the company could lead to contamination or damage to the area’s aquifer. Peterson said he’s concerned the company’s operations could draw water from the surrounding aquifer, meaning residents living near the project could potentially have to dig new, deeper wells. He said there are about 200 homes adjacent to the company’s property.

“The loss of well water is the biggest concern,” Peterson said.

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Peterson said the company’s mining operations could also lead to problems with local residential wells, arguing the operation could impact water levels for the aquifer.

Dennis Garrison, the company’s president, told the News-Sun Wednesday he has heard concerns raised by residents, but said he believes those issues are being addressed through the permitting process.

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