Identifying Contaminants in Drinking Water

Cambridge, Ohio

Featured image for the project, Identifying Contaminants in Drinking Water

Photo Courtesy of Leatra Harper


The Wills Creek region of Guernsey County is located in the rolling hills of the Appalachian region in Southeast Ohio.  The county is sparsely populated with approximately 40,000 residents. The medium-sized city of Cambridge, Ohio is the area’s largest population center with approximately 10,000 residents. Employment is diverse. The most common industries in 2015 were: Production occupations (17%), Transportation occupations (11%), Sales and related occupation (11%), Management occupations (8%), Construction and extraction occupations (8%), Material moving occupations (6%), and Food preparation and serving related occupations (6%).


Additionally, Guernsey County has a history of fossil fuel development hosts important industries of agriculture and tourism in the region. The Wills Creek region of Guernsey county has been significantly impacted by Unconventional Oil and Gas Development (UCOG), including not only the wells drilled to fracture for oil, wet gases and unconventional natural gas, but numerous injection wells and frack waste processing facilities.


The water supply for Cambridge and most of Guernsey County comes from Wills Creek Reservoir.  Seneca Lake, also created by Wills Creek by a dam under the jurisdiction of the US Army Corps of Engineers, is a secondary source of drinking water for the reservoir.  Seneca Lake also provides significant tourism, recreation and ecological benefits at the regional, state and local level.


A study is needed to determine if contaminant exceedances in local drinking water are associated with the growth of the hydrological fracturing industry and its associated waste processing and disposal facilities in the region. This includes chemical analyses of in-stream water near drinking water intakes, as well as upstream from these intakes and processing facilities, to understand the impact of surrounding oil and gas operations on drinking water sources.


Chris Spiese will primarily conduct a watershed study in the field, identify contaminants of concern entering and exiting the public water works, and to then sample upstream of drinking water intakes (and upstream and downstream of suspected sources of those contaminants) to identify potentially contaminating source facilities.


Leatra Harper, Managing Director of FreshWater Accountability Project, will serve as the Community Lead for this project. Lea was a property owner for ten years in Guernsey County, and began a small non-profit in 2011 to provide information and resources to protect freshwater in the region due to the water-intensive needs of the UCOG industry.


Cambridge, OH team deploys PISCES Samplers

In early September 2018, the Cambridge and Barnesville, OH teams got together recently to document the work that Chris Spiese (with the Cambridge project) is doing to put PISCES samplers in the waters of Southeast Ohio. Credit to Jill Hunkler of the Barnesville project for developing this video!

Salt Fork State Park Barnesville-Cambridge, OH Joint Conference – April 28, 2018

All updates for this project

Project Team

Community Lead

Leatra Harper is a lifelong resident of Ohio and long-term environmental advocate. She holds a BS degree in Human Resources from the University of Toledo and a graduate degree in Organization Development from Bowling Green State University. She began the FreshWater Accountability Project in 2012 to advocate for water protections and community empowerment when horizontal hydraulic fracturing first came to Southeast Ohio.

Leatra and her husband, Steve, are grandparents, another important reason they advocate for clean air and water and sustainable energy solutions for the future.


Scientific Lead

Chris Spiese is Associate Professor at Ohio Northern University. His interests lie in the field of environmental chemistry. During graduate school, he studied volatile sulfur compound production by marine phytoplankton. In addition to that work, he is currently studying phosphorus dynamics in the Lake Erie watershed, both in the water and in the soil. Current efforts are examining the role of glyphosate in dissolved phosphorus loading in the Maumee River and monitoring water quality in various subwatersheds of the Blanchard River.


Collaborating Organization(s)

This project is part of one of TEXs’ new cohorts.  TEX has partnered with AGU’s GeoPolicy Connect in 2017 to bring community leaders from eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania affected by ongoing hydraulic fracturing together with scientists and policymakers. TEX is working with three local community groups to connect them with scientists who can help them better understand and cope with the effects of hydraulic fracturing.