Final Report: Enhancement of Environmental Communication in the Lower Great Miami River Basin: A Pilot DemonstrationEPA Grant Number: R827091
Title: Enhancement of Environmental Communication in the Lower Great Miami River Basin: A Pilot Demonstration
Investigators: Hammond, Scott A.
Institution: Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: November 1, 1998 through October 31, 2000 (Extended to August 28, 2002)
Project Amount: $475,000
RFA: Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking (EMPACT) (1998) RFA Text | Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water , Sustainability , Air , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Environmental Statistics
The objective of the Miami Valley River Index Project was to increase the accessibility and understanding of information related to the water quality of the Lower Great Miami River Basin. Much of the data regarding overall river quality and flow stage were gathered through a network of in-stream electronic probes located at stations along portions of the Great Miami, Mad, and Stillwater Rivers, as well as Wolf Creek. The data collected continually at each station included a number of specific chemical and physical parameters at flow stage. All data collected were periodically transmitted to a computer database, where they were used to calculate a "River Index," consisting of general categories reflective of various river conditions. The River Index then was distributed via the World Wide Web and other media outlets to provide understandable water quality information to the general public, as well as heighten the public's awareness of the area's rivers and their relative health.
Year 1 of the project was devoted to monitoring station construction/installation, information management system development, designing a Web site, and conducting a public awareness pre-survey. The River Index officially was launched in May 2000, and involved data collection at six stations at the following locations: Huffman Dam, Taylorsville Dam, Englewood Dam, Wolf Creek, Downtown Dayton, and Miamisburg. The River Index was available at http://www.riverindex.org, daily in the Dayton Daily News weather section, and periodically on Dayton television stations.
Following a successful first season (summer 2000), a post-survey was conducted that revealed only a slight increase in public awareness of the project. With a desire to continue the project to allow more time for community buy-in and potential sustainability, the River Index Partners secured supplemental U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funding for a second River Index season (summer 2001). Following the withdrawal of the Miami Conservancy District (MCD) as a partner in the project in fall 2000, the City of Dayton and the City of Miamisburg agreed to provide additional monitoring station maintenance assistance to sustain the project throughout the 2001 season. For the 2001 season, monitoring at the Taylorsville station was discontinued, and a number of adjustments were made to the parameters monitored at the other stations and the overall River Index calculation. After a successful run during the 2001 summer user season, the River Index Project was shut down again at the end of September 2001.
In late 2001, the EPA chose the project as the subject of a Technology Transfer Handbook. Many of the technical details of the River Index Project will be included in the handbook. With cost savings from the previous season and a commitment from YSI Inc., to provide free equipment oversight and maintenance for the project, the River Index was launched for a third user season in May 2002. After a successful third season, the River Index Project was taken off-line at the end of September 2002.
Currently, the future of the River Index Project is unclear. The MCD has indicated an interest in continuing data collection at the River Index stations as part of its new surface water quality monitoring network. The partners will facilitate MCD's continuance of the data collection and explore ways to fund the ongoing support of the Web site and information management system that make the data available and understandable for the public.
The continuous water quality data collected for the River Index Project generally support the available, more intermittent data from other studies that show that the quality of the Region's surface water resources is good. Although there were short periods when the River Index indicated poor to fair water quality ratings in some tributaries, the ratings were in the good to excellent range a majority of the time. This information will be helpful in strengthening the public's perception of local water quality, enhancing efforts to bring more activity and attention to the area's rivers, and will serve as a general indicator of overall water quality for a number of water quality compliance efforts in the region.
The development and implementation of the River Index Project has posed a variety of technical and non-technical challenges. Among the technical challenges was the development of a valid system of metrics upon which to base the River Index calculations, station/equipment operation and maintenance issues, and database and Web site design issues. The non-technical challenges included effectively communicating the River Index through available media outlets, dealing with partnership issues, and establishing long-term sustainability for the project.
River Index Parameter Issues. Based upon the experiences of the first user season (2000), a number of changes were made to the scope of the project and the River Index calculation prior to the 2001 season. These changes were necessary from a cost-savings/sustainability perspective and were scientifically valid. The major change to the project scope involved the discontinued use of the Taylorsville Station, as described below. The Web site and River Index calculation had to be revised to account for this change. After careful consideration, several parameters were dropped from the data collection efforts and calculations. These included fecal coliform, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH), ammonia, nitrate, pesticides, and fish tox. Measurement of many of these parameters had proven not to be cost effective in terms of providing sustainable and timely information useful in characterizing overall water quality and river conditions for the purposes of a general River Index. The calculation and rating ranges had to be adjusted accordingly to account for these changes.
Station and Data Collection Issues. During the first user season (summer 2000), there was a considerable learning curve involved in maintaining the equipment and stations in a manner that facilitated high-quality data collection. With time, personnel became familiar with the level of oversight required and fewer problems were encountered in subsequent seasons.
Prior to the first user season, the monitoring equipment was left in the monitoring stations during the winter. The harsh winter weather conditions, including ice formation in the stilling wells, caused significant damage to some equipment, which required substantial maintenance in the spring and made it necessary to subsequently pull the equipment from the rivers following each user season. Problems with phone-line communication and electrical service also were encountered on multiple occasions, with lightening strikes, maintenance activities (mowing), condensation, and vandalism among the causes of data collection and transmission interruption. Communication difficulties posed by the Taylorsville station's reliance on solar cells to charge batteries to run the equipment and cell phones was the primary reason the partners decided to discontinue data collection at the Taylorsville station on the Great Miami River for the second user season. During the 2001 season, construction in the Great Miami River upstream of the Downtown Dayton station resulted in a dried-up riverbed. Data collection at that station was interrupted until construction changes to the pumping station to extend the intake pipe to a section of the river with water were completed later in the summer of 2001.
Over the life of the project, it became clear that problems with equipment could be minimized through regular routine maintenance and adherence to quality assurance protocols. Subsequently, all involved personnel were trained in the operation, troubleshooting, and maintenance of the monitoring equipment. Sonde maintenance and replacement schedules were determined by Wright State University and YSI Inc., and were coordinated with the maintenance activities conducted by Dayton and Miamisburg personnel.
Prior to re-launching the River Index for each user season, the partners spent considerable time analyzing the problems of the previous season. During the 2000 season, the dissolved oxygen parameter had been the most inconsistent, particularly at the Wolf Creek and Dayton stations. The problem did not appear to be associated with the probes but with other physical factors at those sites, such as long standing times in the flow-through tanks, or algae and bacteria fouling in the pump intakes and water lines. A more rigorous routine of maintenance, including backwashing and chlorination by the city of Dayton seemed to bring the problems under control. Because of unusually high maintenance and cost requirements of the probes for nitrate and ammonia, and their relatively small impact on the River Index calculation, the decision was made to discontinue use of these probes at all the stations for the 2001 season.
Partnership Issues. With any cooperative project, challenges sometimes arise in meeting the specific goals and objectives of individual partners. On occasion, the MCD required assurances that its efforts were being recognized and that the project was in-tune with its programmatic goals. The partners worked together to ensure that the MCD needs were met. Unfortunately, after fulfilling its contractual obligations following the first user season (2000), the MCD made the decision to discontinue its participation in the project because of its own budgetary and programmatic concerns. This necessitated some modification of the partner roles with the City of Dayton, the City of Miamisburg, Wright State University, and YSI Inc., all stepping in to share the responsibilities of station oversight and equipment maintenance in the second and third seasons.
Communication Issues. Making the public aware of the River Index and its value was a major challenge that perhaps was underestimated in the beginning of the project. Although the City of Dayton took the lead on the Communication Component of the project, the responsibilities for getting the project into public view was shared by all partners.
Efforts to get the local media outlets to effectively carry the River Index message were, at times, frustrating. In the beginning of the Project, the Partners met multiple times with representatives from local TV stations to explain the River Index and get it included in weather casts. Despite multiple follow-ups, the partners were successful in getting the River Index carried by only one local TV station on an intermittent basis during the first user season. The reason for this appeared to be the intense time and content constraints for weather reports and the stations' lack of desire to trade-off or allot additional time for the River Index information.
The partners had more success in working with the Dayton Daily News, which carried a color version of the River Index on its weather page every day of the week during each user season. The major drawback in portrayal of the River Index in the Dayton Daily News was the limited amount of space available, which resulted in the image of the River Index being extremely small. The limited space also prohibited more explanatory information, which may have made the River Index more understandable for the reader.
During the project, partner representatives participated in a number of public events where information and promotional materials on the River Index were distributed. A large River Index banner was manufactured for such events. Promotional materials included River Index magnets, can cozies, pens, etc. Several newspaper articles about the River Index were generated during the life of the project.
Sustainability Issues. One of the primary long-term goals of the project was to generate the local interest and funding commitment to sustain the project beyond the initial project period. Initially, the partners focused their efforts on making sure the project was technically valid and valuable. To a large extent, sustainability issues were postponed on the assumption that the MCD most likely would choose to sustain the project into the future. This assumption was based on the fact that the MCD has a major presence on the Region's rivers, owns five of the six monitoring stations, and has shown some long-term interest in sustaining the project when the original EMPACT proposal and memoranda of understanding were developed.
To foster a heightened awareness about the project and the need to sustain it, the partners developed a slide show that was shown to a number of interested groups and potential sustaining partners. These included presentations to the Downtown Dayton Partnership, Five Rivers MetroParks, the Montgomery County Commissioners, and the Southwest District Office of the Ohio EPA, all of which have some role or vested interest in the water quality of the Region's rivers and streams. Although feedback from these presentations always was positive, they did not generate the interest or financial commitment needed to establish any solid ongoing funding base for the project.
In late 2001, the MCD approached the partners with an interest in exploring ways that the River Index stations and data could be integrated into the MCD's plan to establish its own surface water quality monitoring network. Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission and MCD staffs met to discuss the possibilities and agreed to attempt to bring the two efforts together when the MCD began to establish its network in 2003. The MCD's main interest is in maintaining the data collection aspect of the stations. It will be up to the current or new partners to continue the public (Web-based) River Index element of the project. Currently, it appears that if the technical data transmission details can be worked out and appropriate funding can be secured, there is some possibility that the River Index can continue. If not, it is likely that the data will be available in its raw form via the MCD, but not in the timely, user-friendly format of the River Index.
In late 2001, the EPA chose the River Index Project as the subject of a Technology Transfer Handbook. The Partners cooperated with the EPA and its contractors in providing the information and documentation necessary for the handbook, which should be available in late 2002.
Currently, all monitoring equipment has been removed from the stations, and has been winterized and stored. The partners intend to continue working with the MCD on integrating data collection at the stations into the MCD's developing surface water quality monitoring network.