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Published: Saturday, 7/8/2006

Maumee River fouled by release of raw sewage

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Raw sewage poured into the Maumee River for more than 37 hours June 21-23 from four city of Toledo sewer outfalls as a result of severe storms that triggered flooding throughout the city.

Anyone wondering why Toledo is increasing sewage rates to pay for some $450 million in costs to more than double the capacity of its sewage treatment plant need look no further than the city s most recent statistics for combined sewer overflows.

Records for sewer overflows posted on the Web site of the Toledo Waterways Initiative (www.toledowaterwaysiniti

ative.com) show that the city released raw sewage into the Maumee River from two of its 33 sewer outfalls for nearly 48 hours during that time frame.

One outfall along Oakdale Avenue and another along Maumee Avenue released untreated

human waste for 47.7 and 47.5 hours, respectively.

A third, north of downtown, allowed raw sewage into the Maumee River for 37.7 hours. A fourth outfall, located along Swan Creek, allowed raw sewage into that waterway for 38.3 hours. Swan Creek is a Maumee River tributary. Outfalls take sudden, heavy surges in storm water into Toledo s combined household and street sewers and divert the flow into the Maumee River. The practice, designed to prevent serious damage to the city s sewer system and sewage treatment

plant during heavy rains, has been used for years.

While municipal treatment operators maintain that these overflows are eventually diluted by the additional runoff that

naturally fl ows into the Maumee after storms, environmentalists decry the pollution that ultimately ends up in Lake Erie.

Michigan Department of Environmental Quality records show no releases in Monroe, Lenawee, or Hillsdale counties over the same storm period, although each of those counties has had others this year. Michigan has been held up as a model by Ohio Rep. Scott Oelslager (R., Canton), and by environmental activists, for the amount of such data it posts on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality s Web site. Details on sewage overfl ows dating to 2000 can be obtained.

Mr. Oelslager has sought legislation that would compel the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to require the same historical information from Toledo and other Ohio municipalities. Toledo is not unique in the use of outfalls. They also exist in communities as small as Bluffton, Leipsic, Port Clinton, Napoleon, Upper Sandusky, Defi ance, and Sandusky, as well as major cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland.

But the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in an attempt to keep such filth out of the Great Lakes, has gone to court in recent years to force the phaseout of sewage outfalls.

Under a consent agreement that Toledo and the federal EPA signed several years ago to end more than a dozen years of litigation, the city agreed to expand its treatment plant by 2016 so that it will never use the outfalls again unless there s a flood of epic proportions.

It s a tough concept to get across, said Bob Stevenson, the city s waterways initiative director. He agreed that statistics from the recent storms go right to the heart of the issue: improving the quality of Toledo-area streams that flow into western Lake Erie s Maumee Bay.

Oregon environmental activist Sandy Bihn noted that the western Lake Erie basin where the Maumee River flows is the warmest, shallowest, and most productive part of the Great Lakes for fi sh reproduction. Fishing is a multibillion industry that includes recreational fi shermen as well as charter and commercial fishing operations.

Stopping the sewage will help fish and reduce algae growth. Toledo s program is critical to the region, Ms. Bihn said.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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