Tuesday, Jun 19, 2018
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Sylvania to mull water options

Officials eye finding different source, having 3rd-party tests

Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough has suggested that the city consider finding a different drinking-water source than Toledo’s. Sylvania officials also will examine the idea of having a third-party test its water supply.

Officials of the suburb Monday cited concerns about delays in receiving test results from Toledo during this month’s water crisis.

During an hourlong council committee meeting Monday, City Council members suggested Sylvania partner with an independent party to test its water supply for the algae-related microcystin toxin that was found in Toledo’s water supply this month and resulted in a do-not-drink advisory for more than two days. Sylvania buys its water from Toledo and in turn supplies Sylvania residents and some Sylvania Township residents. In all, the advisory affected 500,000 metro Toledo customers from Aug. 2 to Aug. 4, when the water was deemed safe to drink.

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Sylvania council members also plan to research how to better communicate with residents when such an emergency arises.

Mayor Stough said in a column sent to The Blade that Sylvania needs to “re-examine its plan for a separate Lake Erie intake and treatment plant.”

The mayor declined to explain that after the council committee meeting and did not return calls later from The Blade.

Councilman Mike Brown said Sylvania could benefit from a regionalization of the Toledo water system, where all communities have a say in the treatment plant

Because the area’s drinking water supply comes from Toledo, Toledo officials handled the communication with the public and city customers. Toledo performed the water testing, and had state and other labs also test the water, but did not release specific results until after the Aug. 4 all-safe notice was issued. Sylvania officials expressed frustration at not receiving concrete results until after the drinking ban was lifted.

Dr. David Grossman, Toledo-Lucas County health commissioner, attended the Sylvania meeting on Monday, and he and other officials updated the council on how the water emergency was handled and what steps are being taken in case there is another water advisory.

Dr. Grossman said Toledo and the county were not withholding information but were concerned about releasing the test results because differing testing methods produced conflicting data during the water crisis. “The numbers were not reliable,” he said.

In the past few weeks, new testing standards have been agreed upon by local, state, and federal officials.

Kevin Aller, Sylvania city service director, said he was told informally that Sylvania’s water supply tested for microcystin below the threshold, but was given no specific results until after the drinking advisory was lifted. The safe-to-drink level for microcystin recommended by the World Health Organization is below 1 part per billion.

Sylvania disconnected its pipeline from Toledo’s water supply the morning of Aug. 2, after the no-drinking advisory was issued, Mr. Aller said. City residents were then using water from Sylvania’s two water towers, which hold about 2.8 million gallons. When water use reached 2.5 million gallons on Aug. 3, draining the towers, Sylvania reopened its connection to Toledo on an intermittent basis to have enough water available, he explained.

Post-crisis, Sylvania sent water samples to the city of Oregon’s laboratory, which returned results about five hours later.

City Council received a synopsis of how the administration handled the crisis and why it followed Toledo’s lead in communicating the water ban. Mr. Aller said deviating from Toledo’s message may have caused confusion between city and Sylvania Township residents. The township is mostly served by Lucas County’s water district, not Sylvania’s.

“The city of Sylvania ... water service area isn’t strictly our boundaries. Had we issued anything contrary to anything that Toledo puts out, there would have been mass confusion,” Mr. Aller said. “People in Sylvania Township would have gotten a completely wrong message; they think they are in Sylvania [water district].”

Council members said they believed Sylvania’s administration acted appropriately to the crisis, given the information it had from Toledo.

“The only way you can reasonably look at this is through the lack of information that was distributed at the time,” Councilman Mark Luetke said. “I’m sure there was some hardship, but the greater good of the community was the primary concern.”

Pat Nowak, executive director of the Sylvania Area Chamber of Commerce, estimated losses in the Sylvania city and township restaurant industry exceeded $1 million for the 150 restaurants.

Contact Natalie Trusso Cafarello at: 419-206-0356, or ntrusso@theblade.com, or on Twitter @natalietrusso.

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