WHAT THE RIVER KNOWS: Great Miami River, Five Rivers Fountain of Lights, Dayton Ohio

Photos by Basia Irland and Leslie King

I am the Great Miami River (a tributary of the Ohio River) flowing 160 miles (260 km) through southwestern Ohio and Indiana. My Shawnee name is Msimiyamithiipi. In English I am named for the Miami, an Algonquian speaking tribe. I flow along quite contentedly until I reach the confluence with the Mad River in Dayton, Ohio, where all of a sudden I am drenched from above — moisture on moisture — not by rain, but from water falling from an enormous fountain! Pumped from the local aquifer, water is harnessed into five jets housed in concrete towers surrounding a center geyser.

1. Five Rivers Fountain of LightsFive Rivers Fountain of Lights

2,500 gallons per minute shoots toward the center of my churning body. The central geyser rises in strong jets up to 200 feet in the air, covering an 800-foot diameter, making this one of the largest fountains in the world. Equipped with directional wind sensors, this fountain will cease operating if the direction and velocity of the prevailing winds interfere with traffic on nearby roadways. Also, the fountain is shut off during the winter months.

In some parts of the world, and in the arid southwestern United States, any fountain is subject to being “unplugged” most of the year due to drought conditions. It is quite amazing that there is actually enough water in Ohio to be able to propel this amount of aquifer surplus into the air for the sheer delight and spectacle of it.

The City of Dayton, the Miami Conservancy District and the Ohio EPA researched the effects of the fountain and agreed that it would not harm the aquifer because the groundwater in this region is so plentiful that many buildings must continuously operate sump pumps to prevent water from getting into the basement structures. The amount of recycled aquifer discharge dumped into my body each day from this pumping is more than is used by the fountain. Continuous groundwater monitoring is conducted by the Miami Conservancy District’s Groundwater Preservation Program to assure that the fountain does not negatively affect the aquifer or the local water systems.

This decorative fountain was built in 2001 to honor the abundance of water within the Great Miami Buried Valley Aquifer, one of the United States’ most plentiful aquifers. At night the fountain is lit with a multitude of colors and can be seen from afar, five jets of water paying tribute to me and four of my river cousins.

It is fun to see exuberant kayakers paddling under the strong jets, trying not to get too much water in the boat causing it to sink. Most of the fifty kayakers paddling across my body today are members of The River Stewards, a program of the Rivers Institute administered by the Fitz Center of Leadership in Community at the University of Dayton, Ohio, whose mission is to inspire and educate leaders who empower communities to be stewards of rivers. During the three-year interdisciplinary program, the River Stewards, who come from over twenty-five different majors at the university, participate in experiential learning, civic engagement and sustainable community development around rivers. Their latest adventure is the RiverMobile, a fifty-three foot tractor-trailer learning studio that travels to schools and communities in the Great Miami Watershed to teach students about their global responsibility for me and all my relatives across the globe.

2. River Stewards paddling toward fountainRiver Stewards paddling toward fountain

3. Kayakers being drenched in the fountain spray.Kayakers being drenched in the fountain spray

4. River Steward kayakRiver Steward kayak

I am privileged to see children running back and forth on my banks getting drenched under the spray. And in the evening, people sit quietly and watch the colored lights from the fountains reflect on my body as my current flows downstream. With so many horrendous problems facing my compatriots around the world, it is nice to tell you this light-hearted, joyous story.

5. Owen and Maya Currie run through the fountain spray.Owen and Maya Currie run through the fountain spray. Photo by Leslie King, River Steward Director.


Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Fulbright Scholar, Basia Irland is an author, poet, sculptor, installation artist, and activist who creates global water projects. She is Professor Emerita, Department of Art and Art History, University of New Mexico, where she established the Arts and Ecology Program. Irland works with scholars from diverse disciplines building rainwater harvesting systems; connecting communities and fostering dialogue along the entire length of rivers; filming and producing water documentaries; and creating waterborne disease projects around the world. She lectures and exhibits internationally and is regularly commissioned to do artistic river restoration projects. Check out her work at basiairland.com