Protecting water

The chairman of Marietta City Council’s water, sewer and sanitation committee is working on a wellhead protection ordinance for the seven wells that are Marietta’s sole source of drinking water.

Second Ward Councilman Mike McCauley said while some protective measures already exist for the wells, comprehensive legislation is needed to help the city maintain a safe water supply into the future.

“I’ve been working on it-getting the language together for an ordinance, for some time,” he said. “I’ve looked at similar ordinances in other communities like Columbus, Martins Ferry, Lancaster and Athens, as well as a state law from Minnesota. Then it’s a matter of determining what makes sense for Marietta.”

Generally located from just south of the Washington County Fairgrounds to the Marietta Aquatic Center, the city’s water well field parallels the Muskingum River and draws a plentiful supply of water from the sand and gravel aquifer that’s distributed citywide through the water treatment plant on City View Avenue.

“There are oil wells within proximity of that area. One is near Hadley Field, although we’ve never had any problems associated with it,” McCauley said. “But our water wells are also located on the county fairgrounds and in the ballfields at Indian Acres Park.”

He noted some contamination already exists in one area of the well field near the fairgrounds where cleaning fluid was discovered in the groundwater several years ago. Two interceptor wells were built to pump the polluted water away from the rest of the well field.

Since 2009 the city has had an Ohio Environmental Protection Agency-approved wellhead protection plan in place, but the state has also highly recommended that an ordinance be put in place to support the protection plan, according to city water superintendent Jeff Kephart.

“We’re required by the EPA to have the protection plan, but we never developed legislation the city could enact that would give our department the teeth to enforce that plan,” he said. “Basically we have nothing to reference if we encounter an activity that would be detrimental to the well field.”

Kephart said the current wellhead protection plan includes maps of the area surrounding the well field that identify, in periods from one to five years, how long it would take a contaminant leaked or spilled within that area to reach the city wells.

“We call that our one- to five-year zone of influence,” he said. “And part of the plan is to visit businesses-on a friendly basis-and inspect other areas inside the zone to determine if there are potential sources of contamination that could migrate into the city well field.”

But some threats to the water supply are much closer, including vehicles that park on unpaved areas during ball games on the Bantam League fields. And in the summer many customers of the Marietta Aquatic Center park also park their cars in the grassy area along Pennsylvania Avenue, just east of the well field.

Kephart noted automotive fluids like oil or engine coolant often leaks from those vehicles and could be a potential source of well contamination.

McCauley added that operators of carnival rides during the annual Washington County Fair are required to keep materials on hand to clean up any fluid leaks from that equipment.

City engineer Joe Tucker also agreed with better protection of the well field, noting the advent of horizontal hydraulic fracturing oil and gas operations in this area.

“I don’t believe anyone thinks an oil and gas company is going to drill right in our well field, but there are questions about how far out those operations may be located,” he said, adding that whether fracking could pose a concern will depend on the drill site’s distance from the city wells.

McCauley said he’s also been in contact with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and Ohio Department of Natural Resources, as well as working with the city engineer and Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District.

He’s submitted a draft copy of the proposed ordinance to Kephart and city law director Paul Bertram III, and hopes to present a draft plan to fellow council members within the next couple of weeks.

“I think it’s pretty comprehensive-about 15 pages at this time,” McCauley said. “But our water wells are an important resource for the city and we need to have a law in place that protects that area.”