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Mayor touts water plant, blames lawmakers for Lake Erie algae woes

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    Director Edward A. Moore touts the new Drinking Water Quality Dashboard during the Harmful Algal Bloom Seasonal Media Event at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant.

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    Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz unveils the new Drinking Water Quality Dashboard during a media event at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant.

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    Construction of Basin 7 and North Filters and Basin 8 and South Filters at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant.

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    Water tower at the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant.

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    Collins Park Water treatment Plant.

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    The Drinking Water Quality Dashboard.

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As northwest Ohio again braces for the summer algae season, Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz on Tuesday criticized the Ohio General Assembly, Gov. John Kasich, and state government for not doing enough to address Lake Erie’s ongoing algae problems.

Standing inside Toledo’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant, Mayor Kapszukiewicz held a news conference that’s become an annual event for Toledo mayors in the aftermath of the 2014 water crisis, when large amounts of algal toxin made the city’s tap water unsafe to drink or touch for about three days.

Now, with the beginning of each new algae season, Toledo mayors and other high-profile city officials gather at the plant to assure the public they are doing their best to avoid a repeat. 

Mayor Kapszukiewicz on Tuesday said he’s putting his full faith into newer technology being installed at the plant, which he called a “world-class” facility that can handle whatever Lake Erie throws at it.

WATCH: Toledo's new water quality dashboard unveiled at Collins Park Water Treatment Plant

“We do have an environmental challenge in Lake Erie and we do produce excellent water at the plant,” he said. “The water produced here is of the highest quality.”

The mayor said he would like more support from Columbus on addressing farm runoff and other sources of pollution fouling Lake Erie, the sole source of Toledo’s drinking water.

The Kasich administration, in turn, said Ohio has invested more than $3 billion into the Lake Erie basin since July, 2011, to improve drinking water and wastewater facilities through a number of programs. It has cited several of its actions as “historic reforms” made to strengthen Lake Erie protection, including a July 11 executive order to declare eight watersheds as being in distress for pollution, a move intended to crack down on the manure releases from agricultural enterprises that fuel algae growth.

WATCH: Mayor at the new Drinking Water Quality Dashboard event

Republican lawmakers such as Ohio Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) and Ohio Rep. Steve Arndt (R., Port Clinton) have said their latest piece of legislation, known as the Clean Lake 2020 Plan, should be viewed as part of a continuing process to heal Lake Erie.

Though critics say it doesn’t go far enough and relies too heavily on voluntary incentives for farmers, those two and other statehouse supporters have cited the additional $36 million it is expected to generate for better farming practices intended to reduce algae-growing phosphorus.

“The mayor has a right to any position he chooses to have,” Mr. Gardner said. “We’ve done more than he seems to want to acknowledge, but no serious person who cares about Lake Erie thinks we’ve done all that is required.” 

The mayor said a $500 million upgrade of the the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant is in addition to about $500 million of improvements to the city’s Bay View Wastewater Treatment Plant, which he said together represent about $1 billion in better water quality. He credited citizens for most of that, although both projects also have relied heavily on a combination of government grants and low-interest loans.

RELATED: Toledo water quality dashboard

“We’re doing our part,” he said. “The citizens of this region have sacrificed.”

A product of the New Deal era’s Public Works Administration, the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant has been the city’s workhorse for 77 years.

Although Mayor Kapszukiewicz now hails it as a world-class facility, the Ohio EPA for years accused Toledo of making a series of stopgap repairs instead of giving the plant the major overhaul it needed. 

The issues were so steep that Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler, in a June 9, 2014, letter to then-Mayor D. Michael Collins, said the city’s water system was in imminent danger of failure.

Warren Henry, a well-respected engineer, was brought in for a new position in charge of overseeing the plant’s reconstruction after a blue ribbon task force looked hard into the plant’s shortcomings.

In an interview with Blade journalists inside the newspaper’s office back in 2014, days after the water crisis had subsided, the late Mr. Collins had a completely different view of the plant than what Mr. Kapszukiewicz does today. He said city councilmen had let the plant become “an atrocity,” and said it was in bad shape then because nobody in city government “had a plan” for rebuilding it during the many years before he took office.

Mr. Henry, who now carries the title of Toledo water program manager, said the city is in the sixth year of the $500 million overhaul that began in 2012.

Chemical-feed upgrades were completed in 2015 at a cost of $5.7 million.

In April, a $38.1 million improvement was completed to the water plant’s nearby low-service pump station. A $30 million upgrade to the water plant’s electrical system is to be completed by December, as is a new maintenance building costing $16.4 million. The latter is to encompass 35,000 square feet, almost two-thirds of an acre, Mr. Henry said.

One of the biggest improvements will be finished in 2020, a $54 million installation of ozone-treatment equipment. That same year, a seventh and eighth treatment basin — both capable of treating 40 million gallons a day of water, like the other six — are to be built at a cost of $70.5 million. Then, in 2022, biologically active filters are to be installed as a cost of $19 million.

Tom Bridgeman, University of Toledo Lake Erie Center director, said he is confident the plant can handle another large bloom this summer.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last week that it expects this summer’s bloom to be 6 on a scale of severity, nearly as intense as last summer’s bloom. The 2015 bloom is the largest on record, but the 2014 bloom was much more toxic.

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

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