Defiance City Council approved a new agreement with Ohio EPA Tuesday that officials say represents a new watershed approach.
A related ordinance was one of three legislative items approved by council during its regular meeting. Council also received a presentation on a recent transportation survey concerning human-powered activities (see related story on page A2).
The amended consent decree approved by council Tuesday concerns an agreement with EPA — approved as part of a 2010 court order — which, according to the ordinance, “obliges the municipality to construct and install certain improvements to the system.”
At the basis of the consent decree was the city’s requirement to remove combined sewer overflows (CSOs) from Defiance’s wastewater collection system. These have the potential to allow raw sewage to enter local waterways during rainfall or snow melt events.
The removal of more than 40 CSOs originally was expected to cost more than $100 million over a long period. However, EPA softened on this program when they proved unaffordable for communities and their benefit in cleaning up the Lake Erie watershed was questioned.
One key issue in the debate is that CSO discharges are responsible for a very small percentage of phosphorus — a chemical that accelerates algae growth — entering Lake Erie.
Defiance has spent some $30 million on CSO elimination projects, but city Administrator Jeff Leonard said Tuesday night that no one can say what benefit this has provided.
He informed council that the EPA has given the city two years to explore what he called a “watershed approach,” in which sources of pollutants outside city limits will be studied and targeted.
According to Leonard, officials will partner with others — Maumee River watershed communities such as Fort Wayne, and institutions of higher learning such as Bowling Green State University — to look for ways to reduce pollutants. The agricultural community also will be brought into the effort, he indicated.
The goal is to find a solution that cleans up the water before — or as — it passes through Defiance in the center of the Maumee River watershed.
The new methodology caused concern for one city resident — Mike Simon, 2240 Power Dam Road. He asked what “hazardous materials” might be entering a water retention area — if one is built — to detain water before it is returned to a local river.
Leonard said specific plans of this nature still have not been formulated as the two-year period to seek new solutions has just begun. However, he wouldn’t completely discount the possibility.
“We’re still developing that watershed concept,” Leonard stated. “I’m not going to say that we’re not going to do something because I can tell you here today we haven’t developed that watershed approach yet. We haven’t developed any approach yet. We have two years to develop that approach.”
Simon responded that “if this comes about I would like open, public communication on this. I would like to know what hazardous materials are going into it. I would like to know what the degree or the make-up of the ground is. I would like to know how many years it’s going to last before it builds the other way ... .”
The possibility had been considered, Leonard said, but next to the city’s wastewater plant on Ohio 281.
“Any storage that we’ve had discussions about has been at the plant,” he said. “It hasn’t been out in the system at all. And I’m not saying that we wouldn’t consider that because what we have to do is use a diversified sort of plan where you use green infrastructure, we might use a filtering system. To do that we may store some of it ... So, if you’re concerned about being notified and making sure that there’s transparency, we’ll give you that.”
In other legislative business, council:
• approved an ordinance following a third and final reading allowing a partial vacation of an undeveloped street known as “Greenlee Avenue” adjacent to the 800 block of Jackson Avenue. The “street” is used as an alley, and is thus wider than a normal alley. The vacation will narrow the public right-of-way in the alley but will not close it to through traffic.
• passed a resolution accepting the county budget commission’s plan to divided undivided local government funds from the state. The city will receive $178,000, or 15.8% of the undivided share.