Toledo’s Water Ban Lifted: Now What?
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Protect My Rivers and Clean Water
The algal bloom in Lake Erie spotlights that we can’t take our clean water for granted. Communities that rely on the Great Lakes for their main source of drinking water need better plans to keep their source water free from contamination. Urge Lake Erie community water suppliers to work with Ohio EPA to put together Source Water Assessment and Protection plans to protect their sources of drinking water from future contamination.
Saturday morning’s news of a water ban came as a surprise to me and probably all residents in the City of Toledo and surrounding communities. We think of our drinking water as safe and clean. We use the water without much thought as to where it comes from or what the process is to treat it to make it safe. We ultimately take for granted how precious this resource is to us and our families. So, what happened to our water supply that would prompt a ban where we can no longer use our tap water to replenish our bodies, wash our dishes, brush our teeth, or bathe our children?
The City of Toledo and other coastal communities use Lake Erie as its sole resource for drinking water. A thick, heavy mat of algae concentrated next to the water intake made its way into the system prompting the water ban that lasted over two days. Since 2003, Lake Erie has seen an increasing amount of these blue – green algae called microcystis, which produces a toxin harmful to humans and pets if ingested. This algae is caused primarily from an increased amount of dissolved reactive phosphorous in sediments coming off of agricultural fields during a heavy rains in the spring as well as from sewage treatment plants. Much of this is fed to the Lake through the rivers, like the Maumee River, here in Toledo. There have been efforts to put together plans and programs to reduce the amount of nutrients off of farm fields and numerous studies by local universities to see what the effects of climate change will have on the algal blooms. However, the actions to implement these plans and programs are slow moving and we may not see the results of these efforts for several years.
Last summer, Carroll Township, Ohio, another community along Lake Erie experienced the same scenario, but on a much smaller scale – only 2,000 residents compared to over 400,000 in the Toledo area. This was definitely a wake up call for water treatment plants around the region. Local officials starting talking about a Source Water Assessment and Protection (SWAP) plan, which would assist communities with protecting their sources of drinking water (streams, lakes and aquifers) from contamination.
There was some movement on this initially. But the cost of added treatment and fear of Ohio EPA adding extra regulation on what the City of Toledo was already testing for at the treatment plant seemed to delay plans to move forward despite the priority of developing this type of plan in the Regional Sustainability Plan. With the public more informed of the reality and severity of the recent blooms and effect on our drinking water supply, now is the best time to act.
American Rivers has been involved in these talks and will provide support and leadership as steps toward this plan move forward. We are also working locally in Toledo to reduce the volume of polluted stormwater entering our streams by installing green infrastructure practices and helping the community develop a green infrastructure plan, which includes goals and metrics for the City of Toledo and surrounding communities. We’ve recently been invited to serve on the Community Program Advisory Committee for the Toledo Waterways Initiative, which oversees the implementation of the City’s Long Term Control Plan under their consent decree in efforts to reduce the number of combined sewer overflows.
At the national scale, we continue to work to protect small streams and wetlands by supporting the proposed Clean Water Rule that would clarify what waters are – and what waters are not – protected under the Clean Water Act.