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The Dayton Daily News Path Forward project digs into solutions for the most pressing issues facing the community, including protecting the region's drinking water. This story examines why Dayton's water system went down and what community leaders are considering going forward.
Before this year, city employees estimate the water system went more than 30 years without losing pressure. But Monday’s storms challenged the system for the second time in 2019, cutting power to two water treatment plants and several pumping stations.
“It’s an extraordinary event that we have never had in the history of the city,” said Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein.
A water main break under the Great Miami River caused an unprecedented water outage in February, spilling more than 100 million gallons of treated water into the river, another unprecedented event in city history.
The reoccurring pressure losses are causing Montgomery County officials to consider whether additional, non-Dayton water sources are needed to ensure stability for customers in communities that purchase Dayton water from the county.
After pumping and treating water from the underground aquifer, Dayton sells the water to Montgomery County. The county then re-sells the water to communities including Kettering, Centerville, Moraine, Trotwood and Riverside.
“We probably will be looking to see if we have enough redundancy in the system,” said Michael Colbert, the county administrator. “We have a clear problem with our ability to keep a sustained water flow.”
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Dickstein said the Dayton water system is redundant, but the “catastrophic nature” of the storm cut the primary and secondary electric lines powering the water treatment plants and pumps.
“Water always finds the path of least resistance, and if there’s not a force pushing it forward, it starts coming backward,” she said. “And so our water towers have emptied, and that’s what causes depressurization.”
Treatment plants have backup generators, but the large pump stations at and near the plants do not, Dickstein said.
“Part of that is because it’s just not economically practical, nor is it a common practice. You would essentially need for each one of those pumping stations about three train engines of power,” Dickstein said. “You would be spending millions of dollars buying and maintaining to be able to have backup generators that could essentially never be used.”
Dickstein said the city asked vendors for eight generators to power the pumps.
Dayton Power & Light said its first priority was addressing emergency situations, including restoring power to water facilities. DP&L put the Miami Treatment Plant at 3210 Chuck Wagner Lane near Kittyhawk Golf Center back on the grid Tuesday morning.
Power had not been restored to the Ottawa Treatment Plant at 1044 Ottawa Street across the Mad River from Dayton Children’s Hospital as of Tuesday afternoon.
Staff Writers Cornelius Frolik, Chris Stewart and Kaitlin Schroeder contributed reporting.
About The Path Forward
The Dayton Daily News has assembled a team to write about solutions to some of the region’s most pressing problems, including protecting drinking water. Find our coverage at DaytonDailyNews.com/PathForward.