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Dayton Releases Revised Water Protection Proposal Draft

An image of the revised source water protection policy map for the city of Dayton's wellfields.
City of Dayton

The city of Dayton has released new proposed changes to its drinking water protections following a series of public meetings and meetings with stakeholders over the last six months. Water Department Director Tammi Clements presented an outline of the latest proposals to the Dayton City Commission Wednesday morning.

The first version of the changes to the source water protection policy, originally drafted in May and presented at public meetings in July, was controversial mainly due to one policy change among the ten proposed: the city suggested reducing the area covered by the city’s protective zoning regulations.

 The original regulations, passed in 1988 and updated in 1995, created a buffer zone around the city’s drinking water wellfields that allowed for a one-year time of travel based on hydrologic modeling of how long it would take contaminated water to move into a drinking water well. Businesses inside that zone have been subject to stringent limits on new inventories of chemicals that could be harmful to drinking water if spilled. Companies already storing prohibited chemicals within the boundaries were grandfathered in at certain amounts, and the city established a fund to buy down chemicals and incentivize businesses to get rid of them.

The first proposal, based on new hydrologic modeling commissioned by the city, would have reduced that area significantly, removing 244 separate sites and 123 million pounds of chemicals from the regulation zone. Right now there are 129 million pounds of chemicals within the one-year protection area. The latest revisions draw those lines slightly more broadly than the first, accounting for a model of possible drought and for a very porous, sensitive geologic area between two of the three main wellfields. The protected area in this proposal would be reduced by 25 percent, but only 6 million pounds of chemicals would be excluded by the new lines; in other words, most of the industrial activity near the wellfields would still be subject to regulation.

Businesses, represented by the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, also weighed in on the previous proposal. They were not as concerned about the zoning boundaries as they were about asking for more flexibility within those boundaries. The new proposal would add a variance process that allows companies within the protection area to request permission for additional pounds of chemicals for specific projects. Variances would go through the water department, and under 10,000 pounds they could then be approved by the zoning administrator. Anything over 10,000 pounds would also have to go through the board of zoning appeals.

Other policy changes in the new proposal include an increase in the pay-outs from the city to buy out chemical inventories, and an increase in the fines for companies in violations. Buy-downs happen at a rate of about four per year right now, and Clements said she hopes to increase that rate by increasing funds. The new proposal will also add 18 additional categories to the chemicals and practices forbidden within the protection zone, including prohibiting hazardous liquid pipeline facilities and wastewater injection wells.

The water department is seeking public comment at a meeting Monday at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall, and Clements said she’ll be presenting the revisions to the Environmental Advisory Board, business groups and other local allies such as Five Rivers MetroParks and the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission in the coming weeks. The revised plan will have to go before the City Planning Board and then the City Commission for final approval.

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