Ohio EPA: Toledo Could Have Minimized Water Issues

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Toledo’s mayor has been busy writing, lately. Mayor D. Michael Collins has written President Obama and Governor Kasich among other lawmakers, imploring them to take whatever financial measures are needed to get his city through this year’s algae season without any more water issues, like when toxic algae growths contaminated the drinking water supply, prompting a citywide ban that lasted through the first weekend of August.

It’s since been revealed that the Ohio EPA had long pointed out concerns with Toledo’s wastewater treatment system, and was even considering a takeover of the facility.

WCPN's Brian Bull talked to the agency’s Director, Craig Butler, about those issues.

Below is the transcript of that conversation.

BUTLER:  Monday morning quarterbacking isn’t something I want to do….but I believe if the city would have been running that existing facility within its optimized limit, the likelihood of them having this problem would have been minimized significantly.

We’re very respectful of Ohio and its home rule.  Our preference—our strong preference— is to work very collaboratively with the Mayor, city council, and the City of Toledo to make sure they have a plant that can supply water to the half million residents that they have in Toledo and their surrounding communities.  We have staff from Ohio EPA at the water plant helping them optimize that facility since that past weekend where we had that “do not drink advisory”.  They’re still onsite, and will remain until we feel satisfied that they have full operational capabilities at the plant.”

BULL:  So at this point….no further consideration of an Ohio EPA takeover of the Collins Park Wastewater Treatment Plant.

BUTLER:  I think the answer is “no”.  The issue is about not only long-term infrastructure, but on a day-to-day basis, we have to feel confident that they can run that facility and provide safe, quality drinking water.  And even though we were having significant issues with Toledo, and disagreements about the infrastructure, they were still being able to provide—by the testing that they had done—quality water.  So that is the reason why we didn’t need to step in.

BULL:  Is it your impression that given this drinking water ban – not only received a lotof ocal attention, but also global attention, that perhaps the move to do thise upgraded and enhamcmetns to this plant, will have been accelerated?  That the timelien’s been moved up quite a bit?

BUTLER:  I would hope that’s the case.  I’ve heard that the city is looking to compress the schedule from maybe a 20-year down to 5-year schedule.  And while we’ve not had a detailed discussion about that, I think shortening that time frame is always a positive.

Systems need to be really vigilant about knowing about how to run their system, what’s coming into their plant, and adjusting their systems on the fly so that they can meet demand.

BULL:  How much of this is truly preventable?  It seems almost given the heat, the amount of phosphorous runoff, and the shallowness of that part of Lake Erie, that this is something par for the course.

BUTLER: Yeah, you’re right.  Recent history would always point to August and September in the western basin area of Lake Erie to be the prime time to have an algal bloom.  We’ve had episodes in the past, since I was a kid in the 70s.  But we’re generally getting a pretty good idea of what the cause is…it’s going to take a collective effort by not just agriculture, but by us working with our wastewater treatment plant facilities to make sure we’re controlling phosphorus, working with the departments of health to make sure that their rules are …they’re working on some new rules to regulate on-lot septic systems for private homes. All of those are kinda spokes in the wheel if you will, about how you try to find a collective solution.

So I don’t think we ought to think that this is normal for late August or September to have algae, whether it’s from microcystin or others in Lake Erie, and it’s just a time then that you should stay awake from the lake.  I don’t think that’s an acceptable proposition.  We ought to be able to find a solution so that we can enjoy and protect the lake anytime of the year we want.

BULL:  Director Butler, thank you very much for your time.