Salinity: From Northeast Ohio’s perspective

A common worry in parts of the West and Southwest and even becoming a concern in southwestern Ohio, the cause for concern regarding salinity in drinking water is low in northeast Ohio, according to James Fisher of the Ohio EPA.

“There are projects where people do have salt releases or brine releases that can cause increases in salinity, but in a lot of areas, well there’s really no data or there’s nothing that we can say about it, it just really depends on where you’re looking,” Fisher said.

Instead, the region is more prone to water contamination from agricultural runoff and road salt runoff. Charles Lacy is a lab analyst for the city of Akron’s Watershed Division, which focuses on watershed protection and lake management. Lacy has seen the chemical makeup of a large population’s water and the effects of runoff.

Lake Rockwell, pictured above from Ravenna Road in Franklin Township, is the primary source of Akron’s drinking water supply and is enclosed by a fence, with zero tolerance for any public access.

Lacy said that agricultural runoff from concentrated animal feed operation (CAFO) of industrial livestock produces large amounts of animal waste that needs to be pre-treated, resulting in runoff from the excessive fertilizing of the waste and mass amounts of chloride in the fertilizer.

“Road salt will obviously have a lot of chloride too and so one side effect of that is that if the streams or lakes get salty enough, it’ll hurt the biodiversity that goes on in them,” Lacy said.

Charles Lacy talking about the effects from road salt runoff.

Lacy also made note of the effects on the fish, like pike and walleye, that call northeast Ohio’s lakes, streams and rivers their home, citing runoff as a possible source in the fish population decreasing in certain areas.

Testing water quality includes conductivity, which measures salinity, pH levels, and dissolved oxygen according to Lacy.

Lakes and streams are a few of the many suppliers of drinking water for northeast Ohio, routinely dealing with water quality tests and different classifications of water sources.

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“There’s a lot of different sources of drinking water in Ohio, depending on where you are in northeast Ohio,” Fisher said. “It can range from just groundwater wells to surface water systems taking water off like streams and rivers and lakes, to surface water systems getting water from the Ohio River and even from Lake Erie.”

James Fisher talking about the sources of drinking water in Northeast Ohio.

Tim Stevens, Ravenna’s Water Plant Superintendent, says that groundwater plants may have more of an issue with salinity compared to surface water plants. Ravenna is a surface water plant and they don’t have this issue according to Stevens.

“Generally from wherever I’ve seen is like plants that are subject to a lot of salt runoff,” Stevens said. “A lot of that is located in groundwater and groundwater plants can maybe have to deal with that.”

Tia Rutledge is the planning manager for Portage County Water Resources, and she also does not see any water salinity issues within the county. She says that they pull water deep enough to where salt in the aquifer is a non-issue. She goes on to say that those not using a public system, such as a well system, may be at risk for contaminants like road salt. 

Outside of the Portage County Water Resources building

“Road salt does contaminate some of the people that are on the shallow end, they aren’t in the public water system and they have a shallow well,” Rutledge said. “So, those people that have the 15-foot wells, for their personal use, they could be impacted by the road salt.”

Rutledge does not believe however that salinity is an issue within Portage County currently, and that the EPA would have told them if there were any problems with the drinking water in the county. 

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