August 8, 2016

Pollution Diet for the East Fork Watershed

A Pollution Diet Coming for the East Fork Watershed

Ever wonder how clean our water resources are? Is the water safe to drink? Is it ok for my children to swim in the river? Or is the river healthy enough to fish from? Thanks to the Clean Water Act (CWA) the answers to these questions aren’t hard to find. Under the CWA, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tasked with keeping Ohio’s waters fishable swimmable and drinkable and each state has adopted standards to measure how water bodies are meeting these goals. Ohio EPA (OEPA) uses a set of standards coined biocriteria to determine whether a stream meeting the fishable goal. In other words they look at the health of the fish and macroinvertebrate communities to identify if a stream has poor water quality or other impairments. If a river is determined to be impaired then OEPA develops a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) for that watershed where it identifies all of the sources of pollutants and puts daily limits on those sources in an effort to clean up that river. Enforcement of those limits could include pollutant load reductions from point sources of pollution, such as waste water treatment plants, or implementation of Best Management Practices (BMPs) for nonpoint sources, such as agriculture or urban runoff.

In 2012 OEPA began their study of the East Fork of the Little Miami River, which is 80 miles long and drains a 500 square mile watershed. They sampled around 90 sites for chemistry, stream habitat and fish and macroinvertebrate health. The technical support document released by OEPA names the principal cause of impairment in the East Fork as organic enrichment, and to a lesser extent nutrient enrichment. Nutrient enrichment can come from leaky sewers, the over application of fertilizers and sometimes even natural sources such as soil types high in phosphorus. Organic enrichment can come from natural sources such as decomposing plant material, or unnatural sources like sewage or manure. Organic enrichment is harmful to aquatic life, such as fish and macroinvertebrates, because bacteria consume oxygen while processing organic materials, leading to oxygen stress on aquatic life. Nutrients can also cause oxygen depletion by encouraging the overgrowth of algae, which consume oxygen during nighttime respiration. In the East Fork, OEPA identified wastewater treatment plants and nonpoint source pollution from agriculture and on-site sewage systems as the sources of organic and nutrient enrichment, but the plan for addressing these pollution sources (TMDL) isn’t expected to be released until the spring of 2015. This plan will be in draft form and there will be a comment period during which stakeholders can express their concerns or comments with OEPA.

Despite the state being responsible for regulating pollution sources in the East Fork watershed, local stakeholders are taking a very active role in the outcome of the TMDL and how the watershed is managed. The East Fork Water Quality Cooperative, comprised of Natural Resources Conservation Service, US Environmental Protection Agency, Farm Services Agency, US Army Corp of Engineers, USGS, and Clermont County SWCD and Office of Environmental Quality, have been pooling resources to assist in determining the causes and sources of water quality impairment in the East Fork Watershed since 1996. Much of the data collected by the Cooperative is being used by the state in development of the TMDL. Additionally we’re using data collected at small spatial scales, i.e. individual properties, to determine if we can cost effectively improve water quality in the East Fork River by strategically placing best management practices in areas that are sources of the highest amount of pollutants. The Cooperative is also very interested in improving water quality in Harsha Lake which is a recreational resource and a drinking water source for approximately 100,000 residents of Clermont County. By pooling resources and working closely with farmers and water resource managers, the Cooperative is at an advantage in ensuring we have a healthy watershed for everyone to enjoy.

Posted in: conservation