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Local officials, urban and environmental groups pledge united effort against algae

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    Toledo Councilman Peter Ujvagi, with Lucas County Commissioner Carol Contrada,left, Keith Jordan, director of development for JLJ Vision Outreach, and Nicholas Mandros, right, Ohio Environmental Council regional coordinator for northwest Ohio along the bank of the Maumee River in Side Cut Metropark.

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Representatives from several groups announced today they are united in efforts to combat another season of toxic western Lake Erie algae.

Standing along the river banks on the south end of Sidecut Metropark, leaders with Toledo City Council, the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, the Ohio Environmental Council, and an urban advocacy group called JLJ Vision Outreach also took aim at the Trump administration budget plan that would decimate federal funding for Great Lakes scientific research.

Councilman Peter Ujvagi said it is imperative for the city of Toledo to continue to “do its part” by finishing off improvements to its sewage system and upgrades to its Collins Park Water Treatment Plant.

The former, required by court order for years, is to virtually eliminate sewage overflows when completed in 2020, minus exceptionally large downpours once or twice a summer. Until a few years ago, nearly three dozen outfalls the city had were releasing sewage-contaminated water after almost every storm.

“There’s more urban areas need to do and we’re committed to doing that,” Mr. Ujvagi said, while also noting scientific data shows most of the problem comes from northwest Ohio farm runoff.

He said the Trump administration’s plan to gut budgets for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies with major roles in Great Lakes research is “a travesty.” The administration’s plan would not only reduce the U.S. EPA’s overall budget by about 30 percent but also would end federal funding for the agency’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which Congress usually funds at about $300 million a year. Ohio Sea Grant and Ohio State University’s Stone Laboratory, which anchor much of Ohio’s Lake Erie research, also would lose most or all of its federal funding.

“We can’t let our elected officials turn their back on our natural resources,” Mr. Ujvagi said.

Lucas County Commissioner Carol Contrada said the proposed cuts fail to respect what she and others believe is a human right to clean water.

“Water is really what’s made civilizations flourish,” Ms. Contrada said.

Keith Jordan, development director of JLJ Vision Outreach, said his group plans to become more active in promoting western Lake Erie as an environmental justice issue.

People who live in urban corridors are exposed to a disproportionate amount of lead, asbestos, and contaminated water. Nearly three years after the August 2014 Toledo water crisis, when tap water for the city’s 500,000 metro customers was poisoned for three days by an algal toxin called microcystin, many residents still stash away cases of bottled water, he said.

He said the situation is a result of ”decades of bad environmental policy” in which costs were put ahead of public health, drawing parallels to high-profile contaminated water in Flint, Mich.

“We’ve seen too many times it quiets down after a while, but this is a [continuous] public health issue for people of urban areas,” Mr. Jordan said.

Nick Mandros, Ohio Environmental Council northwest Ohio policy coordinator, said the value of fishing, boating, and other recreation should be considered in addition to the more obvious concerns about drinking water.

“A river holds a connection to a community,” he said. “Toxic algae will continue to threaten drinking water until we get serious about it.”

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

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