To the editor:
The Delaware Gazette has recently run several articles involving city of Columbus-owned land around drinking water reservoirs. We would like to take this opportunity to tell our side of the story.
Columbus provides drinking water for 1.1 million customers in Columbus and 20 contracting suburbs. We have three in-stream reservoirs — Griggs, O’Shaughnessy and Hoover, the latter two spanning into Delaware County — and we partnered with Del-Co Water to build an upground reservoir near Richwood. Water flows from these reservoirs to two of our water plants downstream via the Scioto River and Big Walnut Creek. We recently purchased land in Delaware County near Home Road for a future water plant and are open to partnering with Del-Co on it should they need additional water in the future.
We work with the adjacent neighbors on these reservoirs regularly. While some cities simply fence off their reservoirs, Columbus has tried to strike a balance. We offer land stewardship agreements, which allow for boat docks and stakes, paths and view corridors, and invasive species removal. Most of our neighbors respect the fact that vegetated buffers provide pollutant filtering into these drinking water sources and they work with us. Water treatment is a costly business that has become more challenging due to increasing algal blooms and other water quality problems across the state. Toledo had a do-not-consume alert last year due to toxic algae. We had a nitrate advisory for two weeks in June and have had to increase treatment to deal with taste and odor issues caused by algae. Runoff from agriculture, lawn chemicals and septic systems all contribute to the excess nutrients we are seeing in Ohio’s water supplies that are creating these problems.
Unfortunately, a few neighbors have refused to follow the rules, even after many requests for compliance, and fewer still have even faced court action, which is always a last resort. Some adjacent neighbors have built pools, gazebos, decks, garages, playhouses, etc., on city land, and some have removed trees and other vegetation that not only filter water but also prevent land erosion through roots that hold the land in place. This small but vocal group — who would prefer to use city land as their own — convinced Statehouse officials to include an amendment in the state budget to remove a municipality’s ability to manage its own land and to protect water quality.
For Columbus, the amendment would put the personal pleasure of a water view for a fraction of these 900 neighboring landowners over the 1.1 million water customers we are charged to protect. Two years ago, a similar provision was vetoed, but it was not vetoed this year. Therefore, Columbus, along with Akron, Barberton, Lima and Westerville, recently filed suit in Franklin County to stop the amendment. A preliminary injunction was just granted to prevent the amendment from going into effect on Sept. 29, and that court order will remain in effect until the court can decide the merits of our case.
We invite your readers to learn more about our programs and the important reasons behind them. We all play a role in protecting our water supplies. Please visit watershed.columbus.gov to learn more.
Columbus Division of Water