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LAKE ERIE WATERSHED

Group asks input on new site to track water quality

The Toledo-Lucas County Sustainability Commission is asking the public to weigh in tonight on what it hopes will be a powerful online tool for helping people track western Lake Erie region’s water quality for years to come.

Called a Nutrient Source Inventory, the upcoming website will provide a multilayered tracker of the western Lake Erie watershed that’s never been created in such detail.

Lake-Erie-Algae-23

This 2014 photo shows algae near the City of Toledo water intake crib in Lake Erie.

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A free tutorial to show how it can be used is being offered at 5:30 p.m. inside the Huntington Room on the first floor of the Toledo-Lucas County Library system’s Main Library, 325 Michigan St.

The site’s developers are encouraging comments in hopes of making it as user-friendly as possible before it goes live on the Internet later this fall. Fifteen groups, universities, and government agencies — from the University of Toledo to Lake Erie Waterkeeper to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the Toledo Community Foundation — also are to review it.

In a private tutorial on Wednesday, The Blade learned the site’s future visitors will be able to get far more than a general overview of what makes the western Lake Erie region unique.

The site shows how the watershed is made from multiple other watersheds and subwatersheds across thousands of square miles in northwest Ohio, northeastern Indiana, and southeast Michigan.

Users will be able to see more technical information, including where livestock farms large enough to be classified as concentrated animal feeding operations are located. They will be able to access reams of data about water-quality testing.

Aerial views are offered of Toledo, Defiance, and other cities that still have sewage overflows in operation.

Not included yet are watersheds flowing into Sandusky Bay. But there’s a good chance those will be added later said Tim Murphy, a former city official now serving as senior project manager for Civil & Environmental Consultants Inc.

The online tool was developed at a cost of $250,000. The city of Toledo and Lucas County each committed $125,000, Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said.

She said data generated by the tool will be “a way to start the dialogue” about pollution hotspots that impair water quality, and that it could help build the case for more grant money to address chronic problems. The tool is being developed in response to the 2014 Toledo water crisis.

Environmentalists have demanded a case-by-case investigation into sources of algae-forming phosphorus. The Kasich administration has refused to designate the region impaired, a move necessary for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to create limits for each pollution source known as total maximum daily loads, or TMDLs.

Ms. Skeldon Wozniak and others said the new inventory will bring the region a step closer to identifying the worst areas.

“We’re hoping when people see this it’ll help form management practices and help drive funding,” she said.

The tracker is based on publicly available data generated by state and federal agencies, some obtained by the federal Freedom of Information Act, Mr. Murphy said.

“It is a great foundation to build the sources and amounts needed to pinpoint what is coming from where that causes the harmful algae — particularly for drinking water intakes like Toledo and Oregon,” Sandy Bihn, Lake Erie Waterkeeper founder, said. “Getting the data and a stakeholder consensus on sources and amounts is critical to measure progress or lack thereof.”

Contact Tom Henry at: thenry@theblade.com, 419-724-6079, or via Twitter @ecowriterohio.

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