Tuesday, November 24, 2015
By Jordyn Grzelewski
Mill Creek MetroParks’ lakes likely will reopen to the public next year, parks executive director Aaron Young said.
A multiagency forum Monday spelled out the final results from a 12-week water-testing program that the Mahoning County District Board of Health conducted in the park.
That program, which aimed to determine trends that impact E. coli bacteria levels in Lake Newport, was initiated after a massive fish kill in that lake in June. Subsequent testing found elevated levels of the bacteria in the water.
Park lakes have been closed since July due to public-health concerns. Young said that when the lakes reopen, the park likely will install advisory signs warning the public of potential risks.
Some takeaways from the program, according to information provided by the health board, are that weather conditions have a significant impact on bacteria levels; the Newport Wetlands area provides some form of bacterial cleanup; and that more than one factor contributes to water pollution in the park.
What is crucial, health board officials emphasized, is understanding the issue in terms of the entire Mill Creek Watershed. The testing program found that, while Lake Newport’s baseline (as determined by a measurement called a seasonal geometric mean) E. coli level is below what is considered a safe level, the watershed’s is above that level.
“We do have a watershed problem,” said Ryan Tekac, environmental health director for the health board.
The testing program – during which health board technicians tested water samples from spots throughout the park on a weekly basis and after rain events – found that bacteria levels consistently were elevated 24 to 48 hours after a rainfall event, and then would decrease 72 to 96 hours after the event. It also found that deeper areas in the water, and those that get more sunlight, have lower E. coli levels.
Two types of pollution impact water quality, the health board said: point source and nonpoint source.
Point-source pollution, such as combined sewer overflows and failing septic systems, is easier to identify and manage.
The health board outlined a few policy recommendations to deal with that type of pollution.
It recommends that the city provide CSO discharge information to the park until the city’s CSO system is eliminated.
It also recommends that the park evaluate their outhouses for water tightness, that the county sanitary engineering department monitor discharges at the wastewater treatment plant, and that the health board continue with the household sewage treatment programs it already has in place.
Nonpoint source pollution – such as agricultural run-off – presents a greater challenge, health board officials said, because it is more difficult to locate and control.
The health board recommends that the park system monitor its wildlife activities, and that the county soil and water agency provide education and support for the agricultural industry.
“They key in order for all of this to work is public participation,” Tekac said. “We’ll never get 100 percent, but we can get a lot better. The public has to participate.”