Ohio EPA declines to mediate Dayton, Montgomery County water talks

Dayton pleased with state’s response to county about water quality, system reliability.

The state government won’t play referee between Montgomery County and Dayton as the two governments tussle over water concerns, according to a letter from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Montgomery County sent a letter to Ohio EPA earlier this month asking the state agency to mediate between the county and Dayton if negotiations between the two broke down. The county purchases treated drinking water from Dayton, then distributes it to about 250,000 people.

The county’s letter, signed by Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert, expresses concerns around potentially toxic chemicals in the water, system reliability and maintenance, and rising water rates. The letter also says it wants negoiations with the city to resolve these issues.

The city has refuted the county’s concerns.

READ: County alleges city water issues put community at risk

“Ohio EPA does not have the authority nor is in a position to mediate issues of concern regarding the current Montgomery County and city of Dayton Water Service Agreement referenced in your letter,” replied Bonnie Buthker, the Ohio EPA Southwest District chief.

“As with other public water systems, we will continue to work with county and city officials to evaluate their existing drinking water systems to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements, improve overall operations and encourage ongoing communications and cooperation,” she wrote in the June 27 letter.

Ohio EPA reiterated that levels of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, in Dayton’s water remain under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health advisory of 70 parts per trillion. The chemicals have been linked in studies to health problems, such as low birth weight and some cancers.

The substance was used in firefighting foams at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and the Dayton Fire Training Center on McFadden Avenue. Both are near the city’s Mad River well field.

PRIOR: Understanding Dayton’s drinking water issues

The state agency also said Dayton has “one of the most comprehensive source water protection programs in Ohio, including several hundred monitoring wells to investigate and track potential contamination.”

Buthker also said the state “plans to have additional discussions with both communities when operations have returned to normal” following the Memorial Day tornadoes that cut water service across the system.

“Ohio EPA appreciates the efforts of both Dayton and Montgomery County water plant personnel to work cooperatively with each other to address this emergency,” she said. “While communication during an emergency can always be improved, I saw staff from both systems working around the clock to quickly restore water to those communities impacted, while maintaining water in unaffected areas.”

Colbert released a statement Friday through a spokeswoman that said, “Montgomery County looks forward to working with the Ohio EPA to conduct PFAS testing in our distribution system. We also welcome the regulatory agency’s commitment to have further discussions around emergency preparedness and contingency planning.”

Colbert’s statement didn’t address whether the county would move ahead with the negotiations with the city it seeks under the contract entered into last year. County Commission President Debbie Lieberman directed questions to Colbert.

Dayton officials welcomed Ohio EPA’s letter. The city will continue to reach out to Montgomery County and all of its customers to ensure open communication, spokeswoman Toni Bankston said in an email.

“As the largest purveyor of water in the region, we are pleased to see Ohio EPA reaffirm what we have communicated to our customers,” she said. “The city of Dayton provides high quality water to its customers, meeting or exceeding all regulatory requirements. As referenced in OEPA’s letter, Dayton has one of the most comprehensive source water protection programs in Ohio, due to our multi-jurisdictional approach to guarding the public water supply.”

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