By Timothy Cox
An obscure watershed rule that was overlooked even by experts could derail Celina officials' quest to solve the city's drinking water problems.
City officials were informed recently that Ohio Department of Natural Resources regulations prohibit drawing water from one watershed and discharging treated wastewater into another drainage area. A divide between the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico watersheds runs through the northern part of the city and east of town.
The city has a set of test wells just north of town that officials have been studying to see if the water there could be used to replace the water that is now drawn from Grand Lake St. Marys for drinking purposes. The wells lie in the Great Lakes watershed but the city's sewer plant discharges to the Beaver Creek, which is in the Gulf of Mexico watershed.
The city has spent about $200,000 on researching the well sites and drilling and maintaining them, water Superintendent Mike Sudman said.
"The wells aren't completely dead. I'm not ready to say that," Sudman said this morning. "This is a stumbling block, just another hurdle." Mayor Sharon LaRue didn't sound as optimistic.
"We're still reeling from this, but I think we might have to start over," LaRue said. "We might even have to look again at using lake water."
There is a way to get regulatory approval to deviate from the watershed rule, Sudman said. The city's plan would have to be approved by the governors of eight Great Lakes states and two Canadian provinces, he said.
There is only one case where that happened, Sudman said. The city of Akron gained approval but only after agreeing to pipe its wastewater discharge back into the watershed the water was originally drawn from.
Celina would have to extend a wastewater discharge pipe eight miles to reach a drainage ditch, Sudman said. Otherwise, the pipe would have to stretch for 12 miles to reach the St. Marys River, which would require a whole new permitting process, he said.
LaRue said running a pipe that far would add $2 million or so to the project cost, and said it does not seem to be a viable solution.
Sudman said he plans to further discuss the issue with city council members and administration officials during a utilities committee meeting Wednesday.
LaRue expressed frustration that such an issue could crop up so far into planning.
"Where were the experts three years ago when we started?" she said.
Sudman said the watershed rule has long been in place for surface water sources -- such as the lake -- but has only applied to groundwater sources for the past couple of years. City officials found out about the problem when they were contacted recently by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, where an official had learned about the issue from another source.
"Ohio generally looks at well water as not part of that rule, but some of the other states do," Sudman said.
Jones & Henry Engineers, based in Toledo, did the aquifer study for the well sites north of town. Officials there have told city officials they had dealt with the watershed regulation for surface water plants, but were not aware it applied to groundwater sources.
The city for the past three years has been studying the water issue to comply with EPA findings and orders that call for the city to replace its water treatment process within the next five to seven years.
The city's major drinking water problem are recurring excessive levels of trihalomethanes (THMs) showing up in tests. THMs are formed when dissolved organic material in the lake water reacts with added chlorine. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency believes THMs may cause certain types of cancer, such as bladder cancer.
THMs are not the treatment plant's only problem. In many sections of the plant, equipment is nearly 50 years old and in poor condition. Also, the plant's physical space is limited, causing the amount of water treated to be limited to 1.5 million gallons per day. The city could need double that amount within the next 20 years, studies show.
City officials also had looked at some alternative treatment methods that could be employed at least temporarily to reduce the THM problem, but using well water is the favored plan, LaRue said.
"We were leaning toward the well water. We thought we had a plan of action that would solve our problems," she said.
No matter how the watershed issue turns out, the test wells north of town likely will be capped and abandoned, Sudman said. The water has too much hardness, and Sudman said he believes better sources could be found elsewhere around the city. Tests of private wells east and northeast of town look promising, he said, although the watershed issue could still be a factor.
Using the hard water from the test wells would require an additional $150,000 annually in additional treatment costs, Sudman said.