Point source of pollution means you can find the point or pipe where the pollution is entering a body of water such as a river or stream. Non-point source of pollution means you can’t trace the source of pollution once it gets into the body of water.
The ongoing point sources include: old/inefficient septic systems on private property as well as old/inefficient municipal sewer
systems, wastewater treatment plant effluence and industrial
wastewater. The non-point forms of pollution include runoff of pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer from lawns and agricultural fields, storm water runoff, pet waste, litter, and silt and mud from erosion resulting from clear-cutting of trees, especially when done along the riparian zone. The greatest threat to aquatic habitat currently is silt and mud. (To understand point and non-point pollution, see these papers from the Ohio EPA:
Nonpoint Source Pollution, Home Sewage Systems,
Roadside Ditches, Backyard Stewardship, Open Space
Since the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, many attempts have been made to provide a healthy source of water for drinking, swimming and fishing. Despite these many years and efforts, the water quality in our area is—like many other places in the state and nation—a constant cause for concern. Residents complain of a fishy/earthy taste in the water that comes from Mosquito and Meander Reservoirs. Ground water supplies are tainted with chemicals; some are naturally occurring and others are a direct result of degradation of the aquifers. In this section, we will examine the causes of and solutions for pollution in the Mahoning River Watershed.
Point Sources of Pollution
(See map of point sources of pollution and stream quality.)
- Wastewater treatment plants: NPDES permits (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) are issued by the EPA and permit “allowable” discharges from plants that treat waste from sewers.
- Combined sewer discharges: Municipal sewer systems and storm water drains (the drains on your street) are often combined. This can cause problems. (Note: Even a quarter inch of rain can put too much water into the drains and, as a result, flood the sewer system and back things up. When the system overflows, untreated pollutants—raw sewage, grease, motor oil, etc.—go into the waterways, i.e.: stream, river, lake or reservoir).
- Industries: NPDES permits allow for discharge of water used by industry.
Non-point Sources of Pollution
Street litter, pet wastes, lawn and garden fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, leaves and yard waste, agricultural runoff, surface pollutants on streets, parking lots and rooftops anything that can run with water as rain falls or snow melts, can run into streams, rivers, lakes and reservoirs. This runoff causes pollution to flow into the water throughout the Mahoning River Watershed.
What is Being Done Locally About the Pollution?
First, towns and townships are addressing their sewer problems. For example, Warren Township in Trumbull County has a history of untreated sewage going into the Mahoning River. To combat this, Warren Township plans to tie into the sewer system in the neighboring municipality, the City of Warren. Meanwhile, the City of Warren has announced its intentions to comply with Stormwater Phase II of the Clean Water Act. This action will not only prevent pollutants from entering the river but also will educate the public about how contaminants find their way into the river. These two actions eliminate/minimize the negative impacts on this area of the Mahoning River.
Second, septic systems that do not meet standards need to be replaced; this reduces the contamination to sediment and, ultimately, water. The soil in much of our area is clay and provides for poor drainage. When septic systems are inefficient, the wastewater will contaminate the ground and surface water. There is more to come on this point, given the fact that “The Ohio Department of Health has been awarded a grant to study and evaluate soil absorption-based sewage systems across Ohio. The project focus is entitled ‘Statewide Evaluation of Household Sewage Disposal Systems’.” Clearly, this affects our watershed and is a concern for the Ohio EPA, municipal departments of health, county soil and water commissions, and us, the water-users.
Third, easements are being made in Mahoning County to provide the forested buffer needed along the wetlands and streams. This action reduces the amount of unfiltered non-point pollutants from running directly into the waterways. (See
AWARE.) Suggestions for easements are made in many parts of the state, including Trumbull County. This is both a local issue and a state-wide concern.
Fourth, across the state, farmers are encouraged to till their fields differently and to not spread manure on fields when they are frozen. Many farmers in our watershed are implementing agricultural methods that reduce runoff, use less fertilizer while maintaining crop yields, prevent gully erosion, store animal waste and more. See what Columbiana County, at the headwaters of the Mahoning River, is doing with both agricultural programs and septic system improvements to protect the source. Visit:
Approaches to Wastewater Treatment
Wastewater Treatment and the Solution of Private Sewer Systems – a local story
"Right now it's either a septic system or you don't build. Much of the soil of rural Trumbull County can't handle a septic system and the (Environmental Protection Agency) doesn't like off-lot septic systems, so you're stuck."
That's what Trumbull County developer Don Anderson of Liberty could have thought when faced with building in the township where he was too far from municipal sewer lines and his development was planned to be too dense for traditional septic systems on each lot.
So rather than go to the mountain, Anderson brought the mountain to him.
"It did take a long time and it was expensive, but I do think it is the trend of the future," said Anderson, who began his development eight years ago and spent five years wrangling with government about health and environmental regulations. …
For now, at least in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, Fox Den Homes remains unique, the only residential development in the Valley where the homeowners own their own treatment plant. (Ohio Realtors)
Read the full article at: http://www.ohiorealtors.org/news/ohiorealtor/1997/august/st08.html
Stormwater and Runoffs:
What can municipalities do?
“Storm drain systems need to be cleaned regularly. Routine cleaning reduces the amount of pollutants, trash, and debris both in the storm drain system and in receiving waters. Clogged drains and storm drain inlets can cause the drains to overflow, leading to increased erosion (Livingston et al., 1997). Benefits of cleaning include increased dissolved oxygen, reduced levels of bacteria, and support of instream habitat. Areas with relatively flat grades or low flows should be given special attention because they rarely achieve high enough flows to flush themselves (Ferguson et al., 1997).” (EPA)
For more information, see this website: http://www.epa.gov/npdes/menuofbmps/poll_16.htm
What Can Students Do? Education & Stenciling needed
“According to a national 1999 Roper survey, many people still mistakenly believe that industry is the greatest source of water pollution. Everyone values clean water, yet many people don't understand the threats from nonpoint pollution and stormwater runoff. Nor do they see their contribution to the problem or solution. Stenciling can help. Prevention is the only solution to nonpoint pollution and polluted runoff. Cleanup and enforcement can't cover every street, driveway and parking lot. The biggest challenges to preventing nonpoint source pollution are information and action. Storm drain stenciling is a means to educate and promote voluntary action for pollution prevention.”
The Mahoning River Consortium and The Mahoning River Education Project are currently assisting schools and volunteer organizations in Storm Drain Stenciling. Contact the Project Coordinator on this Mahoning River website if your class or group is interested.
See this website for more information. http://www.earthwater-stencils.com/forgov.html.
Wastewater Treatment Principles and Regulations (Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet)
“Sewage is the wastewater released by residences, businesses and industries in a community. It is 99.94 percent water, with only 0.06 percent of the wastewater dissolved and suspended solid material. Sewage treatment is a multi-stage process to renovate wastewater before it reenters a body of water, is applied to the land or is reused. The goal is to reduce or remove organic matter, solids, nutrients, disease-causing organisms and other pollutants from wastewater. Each receiving body of water has limits to the amount of pollutants it can receive without degradation. Therefore, each sewage treatment plant must hold a permit listing the allowable levels of pollutants. The discharge permits are called NPDES permits, which stands for the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.”
See this Ohio State Website for more information: http://ohioline.osu.edu/aex-fact/0768.html
Household sewage treatment systems serving one, two, or three family dwellings are regulated under chapter 3701-29 of the Ohio Administrative Code through the Ohio Department of Health
(ODH). Local Health Departments are responsible for code enforcement, nuisance investigations, and operational inspections. Many health departments have contracted with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for operational inspection of semi-public treatment systems such as food establishments and small businesses. ODH works in partnership with local health departments, industry professionals, academia and Ohio homeowners to protect our surface and ground water from contamination due to failing or poorly operating sewage systems. (From Ohio Department of Health)
Other Pollution Factors:
What is An Underground Injection Well (UIC)?
Basically, injection wells are man-made or improved "holes" in the ground, which are deeper than their widest surface dimension and are used to discharge or dispose of fluids underground. When properly sited, constructed, and operated, injection wells can be an effective and environmentally safe means of fluid waste disposal. There are many different types of injection wells, but they are all similar in their basic function. The Federal Underground Injection Control
(UIC) program has grouped injection wells into five categories. [Described below] (From: Ground Water Protection Council)
(For good graphics and explanation of UIC as wells as state-by-state links see this website:
Categories & Descriptions of Injection Wells (UIC)
“The Division of Drinking and Ground Waters is responsible for the regulation of Class I and Class V injection wells and for assuring that Class IV wells are plugged and abandoned in accordance with state law. Class II and III UIC wells are regulated by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources
(ODNR) Division of Mineral Resources Management.”
“Class I UIC wells are wells through which waste is injected below the lowermost underground source of drinking water. These wells are usually several thousand feet deep and can inject either hazardous or non-hazardous waste. Ohio has 12 permitted Class I wells in operation. All Class I wells, both hazardous and non-hazardous, are required to have permits to drill and operate. All operators of Class I hazardous injection wells in Ohio are required by federal law to submit a petition to U.S.EPA for a Land Ban exemption determination by U.S.EPA with input from Ohio EPA and
“Class IV UIC wells are wells through which hazardous waste is injected into or above an underground source of drinking water. Class IV wells are prohibited. When Class IV wells are discovered, [i.e.: someone breaks the law and someone reports it, sic] the UIC Section coordinates with the Division of Hazardous Waste Management to ensure that they are plugged appropriately and that any necessary corrective actions are taken at the site.”
“Class V UIC wells are wells through which non-hazardous fluid is injected into or above an underground source of drinking water and, along with Class IV wells, are referred to as shallow injection wells or "dry" wells. Class V wells include 17 subclasses, including motor vehicle waste disposal wells, large capacity cesspools, and industrial/commercial waste disposal wells/septic systems. Literally thousands of Class V wells exist in Ohio, many of which pose serious potential threats to ground water quality. Class V wells may be required to be permitted.” (Ohio EPA)
Read full document at: http://www.epa.state.oh.us/ddagw/uic.html)
ODNR: Class II and III Injection Wells
Technical Services: Underground Injection Control (UIC)
“UIC personnel review construction specifications and issue permits for wells used to inject fluids, primarily oil-field brine, into deep underground formations. Disposal wells regulated by this section include conventional brine injection wells and annular disposal wells. Enhanced recovery injection wells are used to increase production of hydrocarbons from nearby producing wells. All types of injection wells are designed to ensure safe injection into permitted formations.” (Ohio Department of Natural Resources)
Origins and Ecosystem Degradation Impacts of Acid Mine Drainage,
Michael Koryak, Pittsburgh District Limnologist
“In terms of the origin and impacts of mine drainage, bituminous coal mine drainage in the upper Ohio River basin almost invariably contains sulfuric acid and high concentrations of metals, especially iron, manganese, and aluminum. The acid is formed by the oxidation of sulfur occurring in the coal and the rock or clay found above and below the coal seams, particularly in the roof
shales, binders, and rider seams. Most of the sulfur in the unexposed coal is found in a pyritic form as iron pyrite and marcasite (both having the composition FeS2).”
Ohio State Extension “Fact Sheets”:
“This county profile [see below] is one in a series of profiles compiled to provide easy reference to environmental information in Ohio. Topic areas are namely: waste facilities, water resources, and ambient air quality information. Where possible, contact addresses have been provided.”
Columbiana County - Environmental Info for Developers CDFS-EN.COLU-98
Mahoning County – Environmental Data CDFS-EN.county-98
Trumbull County - Environmental Data CDFS-EN.TRUM-98
Ohio Department of Natural Resources: What is non-point pollution?
US Department of Agriculture: These brochures, papers and pamphlets are available through local Soil & Water Conservation Districts.
* “Save Soil Systematically, Resource Management Systems for Midwestern Cropland”
* “Conservation Buffers Work…Economically and Environmentally”
* ‘Tillage Options for Conservation Farmers”
* “Conservation Choices”
* “Wetlands Reserve Program”
* “Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS): In Partnership with People and a Healthy Land”
* “Crop Residue Systems - for conservation and profit”
* “EQIP: tools for the environmentally friendly farmer”
By Leanne Turner, 2002, through a grant from the US EPA. The Mahoning River Education Project: A Partnership between Youngstown State University and the Mahoning River Consortium. Mahoning River website: