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Published: Wednesday, 11/21/2012 - Updated: 1 year ago

Paying for Toledo water treatment plant repairs is a problem, public utilities director says

BY IGNAZIO MESSINA
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Ohio EPA, in two scathing reports, blasted the city of Toledo’s drinking water treatment plant — warning officials that the aging facility has operated for years without preventative maintenance that could lead to a catastrophic failure.

Only a few of the recommendations were news to city leaders, who have known for years about problems at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant in East Toledo.

Toledo’s Public Utilities Director Dave Welch said plans to correct many of the critical deficiencies listed in the reports have already been laid out. The problem is paying for the repairs and replacements.

“What you are seeing in these reports is what we have been talking about the last several years,” Mr. Welch said. “This just reconfirms what we have been telling folks.”

The Ohio EPA wants the city to build an expansion to the water treatment plant so that the addition could be used while other sections are shut down and repaired.

One of the first problems listed by the Ohio EPA is the condition of the plant’s roof above the flocculation and filter buildings.

Mr. Welch said the EPA listed the roof as something to repair but it did not mention that the city had already approved taking out a $15 million loan toward that project. Toledo City Council voted last month to take the loan from the Ohio EPA Water Supply Revolving Loan Account and/or the Ohio Water Development Authority. The interest rate could be about 3 percent.

Deputy Mayor Steve Herwat said the city has plans to spend $40 million at the plant in addition to the $15 million loan for the roof. The cost to do everything recommended would far exceed $55 million, he said.

Mr. Herwat said Ohio EPA sent two teams to review the water treatment plant because of a failure in March of the pump station in Jerusalem Township that sends raw Lake Erie water to the Collins Park plant.

“We had a significant failure,” he said. “A six-inch solid steel shaft sheared like a broken pretzel and parts from that went down into a pump and got sucked up. We had four pumps and two were out of commission.”

The other Ohio EPA findings include a lack of reliability because of the age and condition of essential equipment, not enough on-site gaseous chlorine, and an inadequate amount of on-site aluminum sulfate storage.

“The age and condition of the low service pumps and power system creates an unacceptable risk to ensuring raw water is delivered to the plant for treatment,” the report said.

In August, 2011, the low service pump station suffered system failure and had to be shut down. It prompted an almost four-hour race against the clock to get the system back on line before emergency water supplies ran out. If the repairs had taken just a few hours longer or the shutdown had happened in a period of peak water consumption, authorities could have been forced to allow potentially contaminated water into the city’s pipes. If that had happened, 500,000 people in and around Toledo would have been advised to boil water for months until the system was sanitized, officials said.

The water treatment facility also has an “obsolete” supervisory control and data acquisition system, the EPA said.

“The SCADA system is the electronic brains of the plant,” Mr. Herwat said. “We have controls out there that date back to 1941.”

He said the only surprise in the report was the Ohio EPA’s issue with the aluminum sulfate supply.

“The chlorine facility is outdated. Sometime last year we actually had a chlorine leak and we had to get the HAZMAT unit in there with their moon suits on to shut the valves off,” he said. “For [aluminum sulfate], we can drive a mile and get all the alum we want. They want us to build a big tank in which we can put a 30-day supply on site. We have seven days worth on site, so that is one issue we want to talk to them about.”

The chlorine facility plans are 90 percent completed, Mr. Herwat said.

The Ohio EPA also cautioned Toledo for its low water rates compared to other cities, despite recent increases here. Toledo residents paid 9 percent more in 2011 for their water than they did in 2010. In 2012, the cost increased by an additional $7 a quarter for the average household; in 2013, it jumps another $7.40 a quarter, and an additional $7.85 in 2014.

Council President Joe McNamara said previous mayors and councils declined to do repairs in order to keep rates low.

“The consent decree on wastewater dictated all sorts of projects to do that required water rate hikes,” Mr. McNamara said. “To keep water rates low, the city has been trying to do the bare minimum in order to not sock it to the rate payers and we are at the end of our ability to engage in that strategy.”

Contact Ignazio Messina at: imessina@theblade.com or 419-724-6171.



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