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Dayton Water Resources Key To Future Economy, Stability

The Great Miami River is connected to the Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer, where Dayton gets its water.
Lewis Wallace

Human-caused climate change is expected to have devastating effects across the country and world. The Midwest is somewhat insulated from extremes of drought or rising seas, but a recent report finds Ohio could see costly effects ranging from flooding to dangerous extreme heat spells by the end of the century. Long-term low water levels in the Great Lakes might also have economic impacts across the state.

“We have been following precipitation records for over 100 years,” says Sarah Hippensteel-Hall with the Miami Conservancy District. “We are seeing changing trends. Just in general terms, we’re seeing more water when we don’t want it and less water when we do want it.”

The Dayton area has a strong history of managing and valuing water resources. The Miami Conservancy District was created 99 years ago following the notoriously destructive Great Flood of 1913; with the leadership of Arthur Morgan, the greater Dayton area created one of the most robust flood management systems in the country, preventing overflows from the Great Miami River for the foreseeable future. However, those preventative measures don’t affect overshore flooding in the Little Miami River, and can’t prevent floods associated with the underground aquifer overflowing into yards, roads or basements in low-lying areas. As weather extremes increase due to global climate change, floods are expected to be an expensive problem in Ohio.

Drinking water quality and quantity could also be affected by climate changes, whether because of extended drought or because of extreme heat or runoffs encouraging bacteria growth and algae in the water. Most of the greater Dayton area’s drinking water supply is pumped up from the Great Miami buried valley aquifer, an underground water source totaling 1.5 trillion gallons of freshwater. The aquifer is contained in a deep bed of sand and gravel, which serves as a natural filter and recharges during rainstorms or when the river water is high.

Strong groundwater protections were passed in the late 1980s following findings of contamination and potential contamination in the immediate vicinity of Dayton’s drinking water wellfields. More recently Dayton-area economic developers have launched a push to market Dayton’s water resources to out-of-town companies to urge them to move to the city.

Finally, recreation on the Great Miami, the Mad River and other area rivers is a priority for the Miami Conservancy District, Dayton and Montgomery County—the long term vision is to create a recreation corridor that will encourage tourism and riverfront development.

A reliable, well-managed water supply is a key part of the Miami Valley’s economic development and livability for the future. But how will policy, practice, and shifting climates affect the Miami Valley’s future?

WYSO is focusing on water this month—stay tuned Monday mornings for stories on how the Dayton area protects and maintains its water for the public benefit and for the good of the economy.

Lewis Wallace is WYSO's economics reporter and substitute morning host. Follow him @lewispants.

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