Ohio city sleuths for illegal discharges to streams

By on August 20, 2012
Springfield, Ohio streams monitored for illegal dishcharges

Springfield, Ohio, a college town of 60,000 in southwestern Ohio, sits on the confluence of the Mad River and Buck Creek. Springfield’s streams are as much a part of the city as is Wittenberg University. The streams and the university’s brick infrastructure stand as a constant backdrop to the action of the community but do not often draw attention themselves.

Over the next year, however, Springfield will be paying close attention to its waterways in an effort to eliminate illegal discharges.

“The city is required to determine the location of every pipe that enters Springfield’s streams,” said Sky Schelle, the stormwater coordinator for the city of Springfield. “If a pipe is flowing, we must determine the source of the flow.”

Schelle oversees the ambitious project for Springfield. The project is two-part: First, map city stream outfalls, then, eliminate illegal discharges into streams. The city will finish the first part this fall. Then, the city aims to eradicate any illegal discharges from the outfalls, a project that will take a year or more.

Buck Creek flows through the heart of Springfield, splitting the city from north to south before it feeds into Mad River on the western edge of town. Then, Mad River continues to snake 20 miles southwest until it reaches downtown Dayton, Ohio, and feeds into the Great Miami River, a tributary of the Ohio River.

Springfield is required by the Ohio EPA to eliminate illegal discharges into its city streams. Many of the storm sewers in Springfield drain directly to creeks and waterways like Buck Creek and the Mad River without running through the city’s wastewater plant for treatment, so it’s important to prevent the introduction of materials into these drains that could cause problems in the receiving streams.

Schelle and two interns have been using colorimeters to measure for chlorine and phosphorus, two chemicals that are indicative of the source of water flow.

“By measuring for chlorine and phosphorus, the colorimeters help us greatly narrow down the source of any flow we happen to find.” Schelle said. “Chlorine indicates that the flow is likely city water and that a broken main is nearby. If the colorimeter indicates phosphorus, we are likely dealing with a septic tank or some industrial process.”

The work has only just begun once the illegal discharges are identified. “Eliminating illegal discharges will take a year or more of work.” Schelle said. “Discharges have to be tracked back to their source which includes researching property history and working with property owners.”

Though it will take time and quite a bit of research to track down and eliminate illegal discharges, the city of Springfield will minimize future impact on local watersheds, benefiting the greater community for decades to come.

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