Is Devola sewering really warranted?

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) claims that Devola needs to have sewers in order to protect public health. The Washington County Health Department has examined their data, and we don’t feel they have made their case. While there are many reasons why we object to their science, two stand out. First, OEPA claims that nitrates in the groundwater are at a high level and can only be fixed by sewers. The OEPA was not able to detect any other contaminants (prescription drugs, bacteria, etc.) and are only focused on nitrates in the groundwater. Nitrates in the groundwater can come from natural sources, from farm activity, and from lawn fertilizing in addition to septic systems. High nitrates in drinking water can cause health problems in the very young and the very old, but the drinking water in Devola is protected by equipment that removes about two-thirds of the nitrates from the raw water. Current nitrate levels in drinking water are well below OEPA set limits. This same equipment that removes nitrates from the drinking water may also be solving the higher nitrate levels in the groundwater. Prior to the equipment being installed, nitrate levels at the water plant were going up at a rate of around .25 mg/liter per year. After its installation, levels appear to be going down at a rate of around .2 mg/liter. In other words, the problem may be fixing itself, probably because water is being sent to the homes that have lower nitrates than the previous “closed loop” system. It is hard to understand why millions of dollars need to be spent to fix something that may be fixing itself.

Secondly, it is hard to understand how sewering will fix nitrate levels in the “waters of the State.” Septic systems in Devola are reducing nitrates as water moves through the soil profile. Sewering would collect all the nitrates, concentrate them at the sewage treatment plant, and dump them into the river. High nitrates in the river can lead to algae blooms, which are a public health threat. If OEPA is worried about nitrates, sewering is a worse fix than the current systems which remove at least a portion of the nitrates. Sewering will remove none.

It would be nice if OEPA would come to Washington County and answer questions like these, but they have cancelled their public hearing on the issue. The cost of what OEPA is demanding is very high while the benefit appears to be very low and perhaps non-existent. We cannot support the OEPA in their efforts to force sewering in Devola, Oak Grove and Reno.

Dr. Richard A. Wittberg

Washington County Health

Commissioner