Less than two months before a historic algae-induced water crisis left 500,000 metro Toledo residents scrambling for bottled water, Ohio’s top environmental regulator warned Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins that the city’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant was “vulnerable to potential failures that could severely impact the city’s ability to provide adequate quantities of safe water to its citizens.”
Toledo City Councilman Lindsay Webb said Thursday that she sounded the alarm that the Toledo region wasn’t ready to handle a water crisis almost a month and a half before a Lake Erie algae bloom crippled the area.
During a June 18 meeting of the Regional Water Advisory Board, which manages the city’s water distribution to more than 500,000 people, Ms. Webb was adamant the area didn’t have a solid plan in place to deal with a catastrophic event.
“I hate to be the person that says, ‘I told you so,’ ” said Ms. Webb, who represents the northern portion of the city, which was one of the hardest-hit areas.
The Lucas County commissioners on Thursday took up the environmental health of Lake Erie and its impact on the drinking, cooking, and bathing water of nearly a half million people with the approval of three resolutions.
Thursday, Aug. 7
Toledo’s water treatment plant is fully operational now that a repair to the flocculator basin expected to take four days was completed in just 24 hours.
The request by Mayor D. Michael Collins for residents and businesses to conserve water, however, is still in effect.
Wednesday, Aug. 6
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Toledo’s mayor on Tuesday urged residents to conserve water for the remainder of the summer as the toxic algae bloom in Lake Erie remains a threat to the city’s drinking-water supply.
Water conservation is necessary to reduce stress on the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant, where toxic microcystin from lake algae contaminated the drinking water over the weekend, affecting about 500,000 customers.
Last weekend’s algae-induced water crisis needs to become as much of a galvanizing moment for the Great Lakes region as the release of Rachel Carson’s landmark 1962 book, Silent Spring, and the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire, one of the University of Toledo’s top Lake Erie researchers said on Tuesday.
“We know what the cause is. It is time to mobilize and act,” Carol Stepien, UT distinguished professor of ecology and the director of UT’s Lake Erie Research Center in Oregon, told the crowd.
Tuesday, Aug. 5
Take a deep breath, Toledo.
The return to normalcy has begun.
The metro area’s 500,000 residents on Monday welcomed the return of tap water that public officials — for the first time in three days — declared with utmost confidence was clean, safe, and so free of the sickening western Lake Erie algae toxin called microcystin that sophisticated laboratory instruments can now barely detect it.
■ PHOTO GALLERIES:
One thing I keep hearing from sources while covering Toledo’s algae-induced water crisis is this: It’s a game changer.
It has instantly made the environment a key issue of the 2014 gubernatorial race between Republican incumbent John Kasich and his Democratic challenger, Ed FitzGerald.
It will, no doubt, amplify the debate over whether the future of Lake Erie should be reconsidered by a conservative majority in the Ohio General Assembly, which to date has been bending over backward to keep strict regulations from being imposed on the agricultural industry.
Nearly as thick as the algae that threatens Lake Erie was a new sense of urgency to protect our water supply.
Politicians made pronouncements about ensuring that toxins won’t threaten residents again, and criticized federal and state authorities for not addressing the cause of the algae blooms.
But locally, politics have frequently entered discussions about making necessary repairs and upgrades to the Toledo water system, including the Collins Park Treatment Plant in East Toledo. Votes on water rate hikes were debated and delayed while the plant literally fell apart, and Mr. Collins was in the midst of those debates.
Mike Bell doesn’t want to say he told you so. But he told you so.
When the all-clear came, relief was clouded by concern.
Several residents said they had no plans to dash home to turn on the kitchen tap, and some said they fear that this is just the beginning of water shutdowns. Some questioned what changed and why suddenly the Toledo area’s “toxic” water supply was now safe to consume.
“I‘m not believing it,” said Marcie Hubbell of Maumee.
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Come hell or high water — or more accurately, no water — Jim Cowan was determined to get his restaurant back open on Monday.
Two days into the city’s water crisis, the owner of Toledo’s Original Pancake House scrounged up enough bottled water, bagged ice, and packaged pop to get back to the business of flipping flapjacks.
It turned out to be mostly unnecessary, as residents and businesses were given the all clear to use the city’s water around 9:30 a.m. By then, though, plenty of damage had been done.
“We were probably in the thousands of dollars lost. It was pretty bad. Those are our two busiest days of the week,” said Candy Hayes, the restaurant’s manager.
Kelly Frey, Ottawa County’s sanitary engineer, said Monday he expects Toledo’s microcystin crisis to offer guidance to other water-plant operators throughout the region about how to deal with the toxin and the algae blooming on Lake Erie that produce it.
“We want to learn as much as we can from the experience they had,” Mr. Frey said. But as of midday Monday, he said, “There hasn’t been a lot of specific information that might help.”
As the Toledo area tries to get back to normal following the water crisis, the local hospital systems also spent Monday implementing plans to resume using city water.
The city of Sylvania closed off its water connection to the city of Toledo early Saturday morning, protecting Sylvania’s water supply from harmful amounts of the algae-related microcystin toxin.
City Service Director Kevin Aller said that while most residents were unaware, Sylvania’s water supply was safe to drink during the Toledo-area weekend water crisis.
During the weekend water crisis, Sylvania Township spearheaded efforts to draw more than 60,000 gallons of fresh water from the lake at Olander Park, which was treated and distributed at water distribution stations throughout the area.
The alarm sounded with Grand Lake St. Marys four years ago. The alarm just heard in Toledo was much louder, but critics argue that the agricultural industry, lawmakers, and bureaucrats are still moving too slowly to address the causes of toxic algae growth in Lake Erie.
Lawmakers are out of town for the summer and may not return until after the Nov. 4 election.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said Monday he was sending investigators to the Toledo area to look into reports of bottled-water price gouging in the heat of the weekend water crisis.
It’s been a hectic last three days for Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins as he dealt with a public water crisis while continuing his other obligations to run the city.
But three former Toledo city managers say if the city had remained under a council-manager form of government, perhaps the mayor’s burdens would be less.
The Great Lakes Protection Fund estimates 1 trillion gallons of water are drawn for human use daily from the Great Lakes, world’s largest freshwater system.
“There’s a lot of pressure on that system to support human life,” said Richard Hylant, chairman of the fund’s board and an executive at the Toledo-based Hylant Group.
“We’ve got to take care of it.”
MONDAY, Aug. 4:
The ban of drinking water in northwest Ohio was lifted early today, after tests of Toledo water showed safe levels of the toxin microcystin.
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins announced at a 9:30 a.m. news conference that all tests in the city showed non-detectable levels of the toxin, meaning that a ban of consumption of the water that had been in place since early Saturday morning was lifted.
“Our water is safe,” he said
SOCIAL MEDIA: #Emptyglasscity to #fullglasscity: Water advisory lifted
Toledo-Lucas County Health officials said the water is safe to use in the Toledo area and that if you have been using water over the weekend there is no need to flush your system. If you have not used your water over the weekend, they recommend running the taps for about 15 minutes prior to using.
The Lucas County Commissioners unanimously voted today to seek a state of emergency declaration for the county so they can recoup relief funds for the water crisis.
The declaration, which was approved 3-0, is retroactive to the start of the water advisory at 2 a.m. Saturday. It was lifted early today.
Toledo-area hospitals are preparing today to flush out their water systems and move back to using city water again by the end the day.
ProMedica Health System, Mercy Health System, and the University of Toledo Medical Center, the former Medical College of Ohio, are all instructing their employees to not drink tap water in their facilities until the water lines have been flushed out.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is sending investigators to the Toledo area to look into reports of bottled water price gouging in the heat of the weekend water crisis.
Ohio doesn’t have a specific law on price gouging, but it does prohibit unconscionable sales practices. That could apply if someone sold water at a price know to be substantially higher than that at which it could be readily obtained.
■ Toledo mayor: System safe, but water advisory remains in effect (as of 3 a.m. news conference)
Toledo Mayor D. Michael Collins opened a rare, 3 a.m. news conference today by emphatically stating on a couple of occasions it is "my decision" to keep the advisory against drinking the city's tap water or returning to normal usage operations in effect until further notice.
If you are looking for places to find drinkable water, bring your own containers to the following locations.
The most telling sign of western Lake Erie‘s sickness comes from an up-close view of the putrid, bright green algae surrounding Toledo‘s water-intake crib, not from the multiple updates provided by public officials in front of television cameras in Toledo.
Measurable levels of microcystin, the toxin emitted by blue-green algae now blooming in Lake Erie’s western basin, began turning up in Oregon’s untreated water intake in mid-July and reached levels warranting more frequent testing last week, Oregon officials said on Sunday.
Deborah Adams biked downtown through the summer heat, arriving at the old Macomber building downtown to grab a free case of water bottles from outside. “I’m a diabetic,” explained Ms. Adams, 56. “I need that water.” She’s grateful for the donation, of course.
Elephants are forgoing daily baths, but the rest of the Toledo Zoo’s animals are staying hydrated during Toledo’s on-going water crisis thanks to the Jerusalem Township Fire Department, which delivered 5,000 gallons of water on Sunday and 1,250 on Saturday.
There are two possible narratives to the water crisis in Toledo. Both matter and both need our continued, disciplined attention. One has to do with being able to live daily life. But the other has to do with life itself — the sustainability of human life and social life on this planet.
The Max & Erma’s restaurant at Levis Commons typically draws about 800 patrons on a Saturday night. But Daniel Taylor, the restaurant’s general manager, said that cost between $6,000 and $8,000 in lost sales Saturday, and the eatery was on its way to losing more on Sunday.
Northwest Ohio’s water crisis has made even the fiercest of rivals get along, at least for a day. The University of Toledo football team begins fall camp today, but those plans would have been halted had it not been for some help provided by rival Bowling Green State University.
Toledo has been thrust into the national spotlight, this time because of a toxic algae bloom that prompted a ban on drinking water. The ban sent local media into a dizzying frenzy of wall-to-wall coverage that surpassed any other major breaking-news story in recent memory.