Toledo Water Ban Highlights Clean Water Month

water quality samplingKyle R. Ruona, a park ranger from Perry Lake, takes a water sample during blue-green algae training at Milford Lake in Kansas July 9, 2014. Photo: Marvin G. Boyer

August is National Water Quality Month, and whether you realize it or not, you’re joining in the celebration if you’re headed to the beach, taking a fishing trip on a favorite stream, floating down a river, or even just filling a glass of water at the tap.

Without clean water, it would be difficult or impossible to swim, fish, or drink a glass of water safely.

As my colleague in Toledo experienced firsthand, clean water was on the minds of many Toledo residents over the first weekend of August when the drinking water system was shut down due to the presence of toxic algae. Approximately 11 million people rely on Lake Erie as a source of their drinking water. The harmful algal blooms choking the lake are the result of high levels of nutrients that pollute rivers and lakes – using up the available oxygen, blocking sunlight, and essentially creating a dead zone where little can survive. Unfortunately, this isn’t an isolated case. Harmful algal blooms have occurred in Lake Erie for decades. For example, in 2003, a harmful algal bloom lasted nearly a month. In 2011, Carroll Township shut down its water system due to a bloom that spread 120 miles from Toledo to Cleveland.

Harmful algal blooms are often a direct result of how people use the landscape – which ultimately affects the health of our lakes and rivers. Polluted runoff from factory farms and farm fields as well as urban streets and parking lots that flow into our waters contain high levels of nutrients that cause toxic algae to grow. Wastewater discharges and sewage overflows are another source of nutrients that contaminate our rivers, lakes, and streams.

The recent crisis in Toledo highlights just how far we still have to go to protect and restore clean water for rivers and the communities that rely upon them. What can you do to protect clean water where you live?

Right now, we have a historic opportunity to protect clean water. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers released a proposed Clean Water Rule to clarify what waters are- and are not – protected under the Clean Water Act. This fundamental public health and clean water law requires polluters to meet certain standards and put limits on pollution into waters. Despite nearly thirty years of broad interpretation, protections for small streams and wetlands were put into question following two Supreme Court cases in 2001 and 2006. These waters help to capture and filter out pollutants, such as nutrients, that can contribute to the harmful algal blooms that shut down Toledo’s water system.

Take action in honor of National Water Quality Month and ask the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers to finalize a strong Clean Water Rule that restores long-standing protections for small streams and wetlands under the Clean Water Act.