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June 27 rains led to algae growth in Toledo

293M gallons of sewage was dumped into rivers

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The Maumee River winds through downtown Toledo.

The Blade/Dave Zapotosky
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A month before the city of Toledo started detecting the slightest amount of the algae-produced toxin called microcystin in Lake Erie, heavy rain forced the city to dump an exorbitant amount of raw sewage into rivers and streams.

More than 293 million gallons of sewage was dumped into the Maumee River and other streams June 27, according to a city report released Friday.

Alan Ruffell, the city's water reclamation administrator, said that large a discharge from the city’s combined sewer overflows is rare.

“That was a dramatic storm,” Mr. Ruffell said. “That was a 5½-inch [rainfall] storm, which is a 50-year storm. We haven’t experienced that in a long time.”

Another 267.4 million gallons was treated at the city’s waste water treatment plant and 73 million gallons captured in basins that day.

The following day, 354.3 million gallons were treated and another 50.1 million gallons were dumped into the Maumee, Ottawa River, and Swan Creek.

By comparison, the average daily flow at the Toledo waste water treatment facility in 2014 was 68 million gallons a day.

Councilman Lindsay Webb, chairman of council’s public utilities committee, said urban sewage overflows need to be controlled better.

She said Detroit discharged 10 billion gallons of sewage into waterways that also empty into Lake Erie in August, 2014.

“We didn’t have the level of Detroit, but we had a significant rain event that day,” she said. “The city cannot point fingers at the farming community unless we clean up our side of the street.”

Much of the emphasis to reduce pollution contributing to Lake Erie algae blooms has been directed toward agriculture since a nearly three-day, do-not-drink advisory was established for the Toledo area a year ago this weekend.

Gov. John Kasich in April visited Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon to discuss Senate Bill 1, which prohibits spreading manure and other phosphorous or nitrogen fertilizers on frozen, snow-covered, or saturated ground in the western Lake Erie watershed.

In addition, the bill prohibits the spreading of manure if the weather forecast calls for a 50 percent chance of a half inch or more of precipitation over 24 hours or, for granular fertilizers, an inch over 12 hours.

The law also requires public water-treatment plants handling 1 million or more gallons a day to monitor phosphorous levels monthly, beginning Dec. 1, 2016, and prohibits open-lake dumping of dredged material in Lake Erie by July 1, 2020.

Ms. Webb said the city is making progress to stop overflows through upgrades to its sewer system.

The Toledo Waterways Initiative, which is 68 percent complete, is a $521 million package of projects to substantially reduce the city’s use of treatment-plant bypasses to handle sewage overflows during heavy rain that Toledo agreed to build to settle a federal-government lawsuit.

Among multiple underground sewage retention basins included in the plan is a 36-million-gallon basin that is under construction in North Toledo’s Joe E. Brown Park.

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

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