Erin Wolfe starts as Delaware's new watershed, sustainability coordinator

Paul Comstock
ThisWeek
Erin Wolfe is the city of Delaware's new watershed and sustainability coordinator.

Delaware city and the state of Ohio are committed to keeping the Olentangy River free of pollution, and the city's new watershed and sustainability coordinator said every resident could aid that effort.

"I think the biggest part of my job is helping the average person understand that the water that goes into storm drains does not get sanitized first. It just goes straight into a river," said Erin Wolfe. "It's something that every single person can help impact in a positive way by making sure that your grass clippings don't end up getting washed into a storm drain, making sure you don't litter because that will end up getting washed into a storm drain. Making sure that your car isn't leaking motor oil.

“Everything that falls onto our streets in the city is going to wash into those storm drains, which people like to call sewers,” she said. “Technically, it is a storm sewer, but it's not a sewer that goes to a treatment plant and then a river. It just goes straight to the river." 

Wolfe began working in the city after working about 18 months with the Delaware Soil and Water Conservation District, where she helped Powell, Sunbury, Galena and Shawnee Hills renew their annual Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems permits with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

She said a large percentage of her time in her new job will be spent on renewing the city's annual permit.

The permit process requires the city to demonstrate several minimum control measures, some of which require monitoring and taking samples from the Olentangy, Wolfe said. 

One such control measure involves detecting and eliminating any polluting discharges into the river, she said.

During dry weather in the summer, city employees will walk along the river, looking for any discharge coming from storm-sewer lines.

Any liquid running from the lines "will tell us that somewhere someone is discharging something into a storm drain, which they're not allowed to do," Wolfe said.

The city then would use maps of its storm sewers to trace the source of the discharge, she said.

Another requirement of the permit is collection of samples of aquatic insects and invertebrates to detect any presence of pollution, Wolfe said.

"Some insects are more tolerant to pollution. So if you're only seeing those, then you know that your stream is not very healthy,” she said. “But if you're seeing insects that are not tolerant to pollution, then you know you have a high-quality stream or river like the Olentangy." 

Wolfe, 27, is a Delaware resident who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2015 with a bachelor's degree in environmental studies.

"When I was in school at the University of Cincinnati, I started learning about sustainability and natural resources and protecting natural resources and living my life as sustainably as possible,” she said. “I just became very passionate about protecting the earth and using resources wisely. I guess part of that comes from spending a lot of time outdoors when I was younger. I think that helped foster an appreciation for the environment. As I've learned more and more about all the horrible impacts that humans have on the environment, I was just drawn to this type of career and wanting to protect our resources."

“Erin has a fresh perspective and ideas that will help move our initiatives forward. She is very familiar with the Olentangy River watershed and has strong local knowledge of current sustainability issues. She makes an excellent fit for Delaware,” said city community-affairs director Lee Yoakum.

The city also monitors the river as part of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Scenic Rivers program, Wolfe said.

"Rivers and streams in the Ohio Scenic Rivers program are monitored regularly to ensure that the water habitat quality remains high," the ODNR’s website says.

Wolfe said the city files annual reports as part of both the EPA permit process and the scenic-rivers program.

Wolfe said the city is committed to sustainability.

She said Delaware participates in the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission's Sustainable2050, which MORPC calls "a program that supports our member communities’ sustainability efforts through direct technical assistance, collaboration and recognition."

Wolfe said one such recent effort was work with city arborist Casey McCarty to coordinate planting of 200 native tree saplings and a quarter-acre of prairie grasses near the City Dog Park and wetlands at 840 Mill Run Crossing.

The project also celebrated the city's 40th anniversary of being recognized as a Tree City USA by the National Arbor Day Foundation, Yoakum said. 

"Planting trees helps with absorbing stormwater, but it also helps create habitat and an environment that will be sustained for a long time, that our children and grandchildren can enjoy," Wolfe said.

 Sustainability also includes energy benchmarks, she said, such as reducing the city's carbon footprint and establishing an electric-vehicle charging station in the city parking lot on East William Street.

Wolfe also worked for two years as a ranger at Alum Creek State Park and said she was one of the operators of the dam used for flood-control purposes.

Yoakum said Wolfe's annual salary is $49,171. Benefits include medical and dental insurance, life insurance, paid vacation, sick leave, tuition reimbursement and the Ohio Public Employees Retirement System pension, he said.

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