Liquid Assets
4:00 am
Wed September 25, 2013

Liquid Assets: Digging deep for water quality

Each day people from Lima to Cincinnati get their drinking water from an underground river known as the Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer. It encompasses about 136 square miles and contains 1.5 trillion gallons of water

Credit WCPO

In fact, 1.6 million people rely on water from the Great Miami Aquifer, including companies like Procter and Gamble and the region's growing number of breweries.

Richard Dube is Vice President of Brewing and Quality for Christian Moerlein and he knows a thing or two about needing water.

“When you reach one barrel of beer for about six to seven barrels of water, you’re doing awfully good,” he says.

Dube uses technologies to change the mineral content to his preferred specifications, so it doesn't have to be pristine coming in but the brewery does need access to a lot of water. University of Cincinnati Senior Vice President of Research William Ball says Moerlein isn't alone.

“A clean aquifer and a clean river is a big attractant to industry,” says Ball.

UC and the University of Dayton are preparing to sign a deal to study the aquifer. Wright State, Miami, Central State, and Northern Kentucky University may join in too. They'll start by drilling four wells into the aquifer near where the Great Miami and Ohio rivers meet.

Ball says, “What we want to be able to do is create a test bed along the entire aquifer to be able to monitor the quality of the aquifer in real time.”

Researchers at UD, led by Environmental Engineering professor Philip Taylor, will create tiny, high-tech sensors to fit inside the wells to collect that real-time data.

“I think the University of Cincinnati is going to more involved in some of the hydrology measurements but my group is more interested in the chemistry,” says Taylor. “We’re going to determine the organic levels in the water, whether there are chemicals of emerging concern, pharmaceuticals, things that are unregulated at this point.”

They'll also look for metals like arsenic, and nitrates and atrazine from agricultural run-off. Taylor believes the project will be the first of its kind.

“I think there are people studying ground water but no one is really looking at an aquifer like ours, which is fairly unique anyway. I’d think you want to take data for certainly 5-10 years at a minimum, probably longer than that,” says Taylor.

Everyone agrees the aquifer's quality is currently very good. UC's Ball says the project is about keeping it that way.

“But what happens in the future as industry wants to move into an area?” asks Ball. “There may be increasing threats to that aquifer. So what’s good today may not be the case tomorrow. In addition, all the superfund sites, and all the potential threats around the aquifer right now are not directly threatening the aquifer by contaminating it, at least to our knowledge, but that may not always be the case.”

The aquifer monitoring program could also attract desirable companies and jobs to the region and UD's sensor technology could be expanded and turned into a revenue generator.

According to Ball, “That technology could be ported across the United States and sent throughout the world. Because I guarantee you, the aquifers in China are not nearly as clean.”

Well construction will begin once the partnership is finalized and funds are secured. The first four could be in place as soon as the end of this year.