Toledo and other northwest Ohio communities need to think regionally about water service, as economic partners and providers.
Toledoans pay some of Ohio’s lowest water rates. But the city’s Collins Park water treatment plant needs $257 million in work to bring it into compliance with state and federal environmental mandates. City council voted recently to spend $15 million to fix the plant’s roof and to fund another $9.34 million worth of work at the facility, including a new water treatment unit.
But these measures are only a down payment on the plant’s needed upgrades. Water rates will have to increase; the question is when.
Mayor Mike Bell and council members may be tempted to defer the issue until after next year’s municipal election. But previous funding delays contributed greatly to the management mess that Collins Park has become.
More positively, the mayor is promoting a regional water board that would give suburban and outlying communities in northwest Ohio a greater sense of ownership in the water system. It’s likely the Collins Park plant would not have fallen into such disrepair if other communities were involved in its operation.
A regional approach would enable this area to use its water supply — one of its greatest assets — as a selling point for industrial development. Equalized water rates could be used to court businesses. There would be more consistent access to a high-quality supply of water, which can make or break projects.
The region benefited when Toledo extended a water line to the Delta area in the late 1990s to accommodate North Star BlueScope Steel. Communities such as Berkey, which have had to deal with contaminated groundwater, could be more attractive to businesses if they were part of a regional water authority.
The Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments soon will commission a study that will propose a road map for creating a regional water authority. Details will likely take more than a year to emerge, but the proposal is off to a good start with support from Mayor Bell and other area leaders.
Communities from Lucas, Wood, Fulton, and Ottawa counties, as well as Monroe County in southeast Michigan, have taken part in discussions. TMACOG President Anthony Reams said area officials have talked about a regional water authority since the 1980s, but “this is the only time we’ve had sincere, interested players at the table.”
A regional water authority is worth pursing, especially if it encourages local officials to focus on efficiency and the greater good of this area, rather than narrow self-interest.