By Susan Tebben
Mahoning County residents will see more state trucks around the region during the summer as the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency prepares to test the lower Mahoning River watershed and its tributaries.
The OEPA attended a meeting of the Environmental Planning Advisory Committee at Mill Creek Metroparks on Thursday, explaining what goes into testing water quality and a test of the total maximum daily load (TMDL) of streams within the lower Mahoning. The federal Clean Water Act calls for a TMDL for “impaired water bodies,” according to the OEPA.
EPAC is a subcommittee of the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, and Thursday’s meeting was meant to help local officials discussing storm- water and water quality with the public.
“A lot of people don’t understand that [sanitary] sewers don’t go directly to sewage plants, it goes straight to rivers and streams,” said Rachel McCartney, of Eastgate and the Clean Ohio Conservation Fund. “We’re hoping that the local community will start thinking about mainly the stormwater problems.”
Presentations at the meeting broke down the future plans for the TMDL and what the state is doing to keep the streams and rivers to legal standards.
“We test how [many pollutants] the stream can handle,” said Bill Zawiski, OEPA water quality manager, who was asked to speak at the meeting. “We collect samples of the water, we pick a landmark like a bridge where we’ll sample the water, and from that, we get information on how much water moves through the stream, its flow and the concentration at that site.”
From this data comes the TMDL, which is how the OEPA proposes to fix the problems with nutrient levels, flow pressure and wildlife population, Zawiski said.
“A healthy stream can handle floodwater better and handle sediment better,” Zawiski explained.
Several manmade factors can affect the water quality, including the presence of sewage-treatment plants and, a common occurrence in the studies the OEPA has already done, dams.
“Everywhere we have gone, anywhere there’s a dam on a flowing river, there’s an impairment,” Zawiski said.
The dams not only impair the levels of nutrients but also block fish movement. Generally in this area, dams were put in place to supply steel mills, which now are largely out of the area. More often than not, the OEPA recommends that dams be taken out of streams. One exception is when the dam is providing the water supply for a community, and it is not economically feasible to remove the dam.
Sampling season for the streams will be May through October, and now, the OEPA is preparing a study plan to find out the locations they will test, Zawiski said.
“We pick about 90 to 100 sites, and then the Columbus office tells us what resources we have available,” Zawiski said.
The TMDL will not take place until 2014 or 2015, but before it does, the OEPA will have public meetings to give residents an update on what’s going to happen in their neighborhoods. The OEPA also will work with local zoning offices for parts of the study they can’t conduct themselves. The public meetings and partnership with local zoning offices help keep awareness up about the testing and the benefits of the TMDL study.