It was brought to my attention by the Trumbull County Board of Health and a concerned citizen group that ODNR issued four drilling permits in Mahoning County. These permits caught my interest because they were located within the Meander Reservoir watershed. Each of these permits relate to the same drilling site. ODNR drilling rules allow for up to 6 wells to be placed in the same drilling pad. Each of these wells may be used to drill in separate horizontal directions, thus reaching more of the shale play from a single well pad. What was interesting about this new horizontal drilling permit was that it was located within an area previously designated by the Ohio EPA as a Drinking Water Source Protection (SWAP) area. All things considered, there are hundreds of wells in this zone currently. However, the new permits caused me to research the precautions that are taken to protect the Meander Reservoir from accidents as a result of the drilling for oil and natural gas. What I discovered is that drilling is just one of the many potential risks to our water supply and that a plan is in place to monitor and prevent these risks from affecting our health.
The Meander Reservoir provides potable water to over 200,000 residents. The Reservoir is the sole source provider to the cities of Niles, Youngstown, and McDonald. The reservoir is managed by Meander Water, which is a quasi government body composed of representatives of each of those cities. These three communities, in turn, sell water to other water districts throughout the Mahoning Valley. For example, Niles, Girard, and McDonald sell bulk water to Girard. Girard, in turn, sells water to Liberty Township.
A multi-jurisdictional plan, named “Drinking Water Source Assessment for the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District” was conceived in 2005 and first published in 2006. The plan was then updated and republished by the Ohio EPA in 2009. There are many government bodies working in conjunction to ensure the integrity and execution of this plan.
The plan creates three levels of protection, each related to the proximity of threats to the water intake mechanism. The zones are named Emergency Management Zone (EMZ), Corridor Management Zone (CMZ), and the Drinking Water Source Protection Area (SWAP). The EMZ is an area in the immediate vicinity of the surface water intake in which the public water system operator has little or no time to respond to a spill. The CMZ is the area within 1,000 feet of each bank of the reservoir. It starts from the intake and extends to a point approximately 4 miles upstream, a distance of approximately 10 miles. The CMZ also includes tributaries the reservoir. On tributaries the width of the CMZ is 500 feet from each bank. The length on a tributary is 10 stream miles from the intake. The SWAP, or Source Water Protection Area, is the drainage area upstream of the point where the water is withdrawn from a surface source such as a stream, lake or reservoir. The protection area for the reservoir is fan-shaped and encompasses 86.5 square miles. Our recently permitted well, known as the “Cadle” well, is in the SWAP zone.
As of 2009, there were already 189 wells located in the CMZ alone. There is a multitude more in the SWAP zone. In terms of potential threats to our water supply, drilling is prioritized as 8 of 9. For this reason, I tell those concerned about this new well in Mahoning County, “Nothing new here! Move along”.