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The Miami Valley watersheds not affected by East Palestine runoff

 The Great Miami River is part of the network of rivers and streams that make up the precious watersheds of the Miami Valley, which are not affected by runoff from the East Palestine train wreck.
The Great Miami River is part of the network of rivers and streams that make up the precious watersheds of the Miami Valley.

The environmental contamination from the East Palestine train wreck reminds us of the importance of our water. The Miami Conservancy District is a regional governmental agency that helps protect the area’s water supply. WYSO’s Mike Frazier spoke with Sarah Hippensteel Hall, Manager of Watershed Partnerships. We began by asking if water contamination from the East Palestine site could affect our water supply.

Sarah Hippensteel Hall: So the good news is that our rivers, our streams, and our groundwater are not connected with the runoff from that train derailment site. In fact, they drain in a totally different direction. The Great Miami River Watershed and the Little Miami River watershed — those rivers both drain into the Ohio River, not the other way around.

Mike Frazier: Now what is a watershed exactly for folks who may not understand?

SHH: A watershed is the area of land that all drains to the same body of water. So, for example, all the little rivers and streams that drain into the bigger Great Miami River — that entire land area is called the watershed. And the Little Miami River Watershed has a separate land area. And both of those areas drain independently of each other into the Ohio River. So then they are both part of the Ohio River Watershed.

MF: I see signs on sewer drains with a little fish on it that says don't dump contaminants here because it goes into a certain watershed.

SHH: So our curbs and gutters are storm drains. In many communities, those storm drains go straight into a stream or a river. So that's part of our watershed too. It's everything that drains off of the land. It could be your yard. It could be a roadway. That's all part of a watershed. There's nowhere on the planet that you can stand where you are not in somebody's watershed.

MF: What is so unique about our source of water here in the more immediate Miami Valley area?

SHH: The Southwest Ohio region is home to one of the world's largest, freshest and most accessible groundwater sources of water in our aquifer. And you kind of have to say all three of those things to make it true. But we have a very large underground reserve of water that we are all able to tap into for drinking and businesses and industry.

MF: What makes it so unique and so fresh and pure?

SHH: Our buried valley aquifer is a sand and gravel aquifer, so you can think of it kind of as a giant canyon underneath our feet, but completely filled with sand and gravel that were left behind by the glaciers. So a long time ago. And that entire canyon of sand and gravel is also filled with water and all those little pore spaces. So when we put a well in and pull water out, it's being naturally filtered by that sand and gravel, which makes it not only very replenishable because the land area is very large, but also pretty clean when it gets pulled out of the ground.

MF: I'm glad you brought that up, because saying how clean and how effective our aquifer is in filtering our water doesn't give people carte blanche to just dump whatever they want to dump into our water system and expect our aquifer to clean it up.

SHH: No, and I appreciate you saying that because the more potential contaminants that are in our water, the more expensive and complicated that treatment needs to be before it can go to our homes for consumption. Source water protection is critically important to keep that aquifer as clean and healthy and plentiful as possible. And the bigger that we can make those source water protection areas, then the more protected our water will be and potentially the less treatment it might need in the future.

MF: How would you assess the current health of the Miami River?

SHH: We know that our river is one of the healthiest in Ohio and continues to be more healthy every year that it's tested. So we're really happy to tell that story. And the Twin Creek, for example, which flows through Preble County and enters the great Miami near Middletown, it is one of the healthiest streams in the state, really the third healthiest. So we've got some really special creeks here. That being said, we all need to be diligent about making sure that our source water protection plans are complete and they are implemented and that we never take water for granted, and that we're doing everything we can to make sure that water is plentiful and clean for us in the future.

For more information on our area’s water, visit the Miami Conservancy District website.

A chance meeting with a volunteer in a college computer lab in 1987 brought Mike to WYSO. He started filling in for various music shows, and performed various production, news, and on-air activities during the late 1980s and 90s, spinning vinyl and cutting tape before the digital evolution.