YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Mill Creek Park patrons will likely not be able to use the park’s water system the rest of the summer, Mill Creek Park Executive Director Aaron Young said at a press conference Thursday.
Young said that Mill Creek’s problem with E. coli bacteria pollution is much smaller than other bodies of water in the state. Mill Creek Park will need the involvement of citizens to keep its lakes and streams clean going forward, according to Young.
Young made those statements after a closed-door meeting with representatives from a slew of government agencies that lasted almost three hours. The meeting came in the wake of sewage runoff that killed a slew of fish in one of the park’s lakes.
During that meeting, Mill Creek Park officials received water quality data from the state EPA for the first time. The Ohio EPA took water samples from the park lakes in 2011 and 2013. The EPA also gave results from the rest of the 80-mile watershed that feeds into the park.
“You should see some of the levels in Mill Creek way south. They are way worse than what was in the lake right after the storm event,” Young said.
Heavy June rains forced water from the Youngstown city sewer system to flood into Lake Newport in Mill Creek Park. That water led to fish dying, with many of their carcasses floating to the lake’s surface.
WKBN had the water independently tested, and a YSU professor analyzed the results, saying that the level of fecal coliform bacteria in the water was almost 10 times what it should be. A day after publishing those results, Mill Creek Park closed all its lakes indefinitely.
While the sewer outflows from the city of Youngstown are playing a part in the pollution, Young said it’s only one part of the puzzle that has to be solved.
“It is a much wider problem than just what is happening at the lakes,” Young said.
Park officials learned pollution is flowing into the lakes from different places throughout an 80-mile area, not just from the city sewer system.
“This is a really teachable moment for us to all understand that we play a role in the quality of our watershed. From farmers on down to what you do with your waste water, what you do with your oil,” Mahoning County Health Commissioner Pat Sweeney said.
Pollution from septic tanks, farms and yards runs into the waterways that feed Mill Creek Park. The EPA took water samples in 2011 and 2013 all through the watershed. Young said the results showed e. coli levels far higher than what was found at the lakes last week.
“You are not going to see the water quality improve until we start addressing the watershed as a whole,” Young said.
The Mahoning County Health Board will test the water quality at the park every two weeks across multiple sites. Those results will be posted online.
The Eastgate Regional Council has developed resources for keeping watersheds clean.