City must stay ahead of drinking water crisis

Posted on August 20, 2019 by
Author, Dominga Grace is a resident of West Toledo and a University of Toledo public health student. Dominga participated in a Youth Water Summit this past June sponsored by Junction Coalition and Freshwater Future.  

The water crisis was a result of a toxic algal bloom bearing down on Toledo’s drinking water intake pipe.

It has been five years since I woke up to a do-not-drink water advisory. I was a sophomore in school, and shocked something like this could happen in our country. At school, it was the topic of all the conversations. We could not get a drink from the drinking fountain or use the bathroom.

Dominga Grace, Freshwater future, toledo water, algea bloom, toxic algal bloom

Photo credit: Columbus Dispatch

The water crisis was a result of a toxic algal bloom bearing down on Toledo’s drinking water intake pipe. Since the water crisis, I have made it a priority to get involved and understand what causes these harmful algal blooms and how to protect myself and those I love. Every year I brace for the growing algal bloom. As the rain poured down this past spring I wondered how big and how toxic the algal bloom would be, and therefore, how much bottled water I should stockpile.

Climate change is exacerbating the problem of nutrients running off farm fields and streets and overwhelming water treatment plants. The period June, 2018, to May, 2019, was the wettest 12 months in 124 years. The record rainfall caused massive flooding and saturated farm fields so much that farmers had a difficult time planting crops. Scientists agree the largest source of algae causing pollution flowing into Lake Erie is runoff from farm fields, and while it is unfortunate so many farmers are struggling to keep their farms afloat this season, the reduced fertilizer and manure sheds some light on the solutions.

Scientists are seeing about a 30 percent reduction in dissolved reactive phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie. This means that if we do not apply phosphorus on agricultural fields we could see a serious reduction in the size of the harmful algal bloom pretty quickly. Phosphorus is coming from different sources as well, including phosphorus applied in previous years from soils flowing off of farm fields, raw and partially treated sewage being discharged into Lake Erie, failing septic tanks, and polluted runoff from urban landscapes.

Recently, Gov. Mike DeWine recommitted to the 40 percent reduction of phosphorus flowing into Lake Erie by 2025 with the governor of Michigan and Premier of Ontario. Governor DeWine and the General Assembly also proposed and created the H2Ohio Fund, a funding mechanism to assist farmers in putting best management practices on farm fields. These measures are great, and when coupled with accountability measures and funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and Farm Bill more best management practices can be put on farm fields with confidence these actions will result in improved water quality. However, more needs to be done. While there are great farmers doing all the right things on their farm fields, there are others that may need to be brought along through legislative tools that include only applying as much fertilizer or manure as needed and utilizing a suite of best management practices.

Even though the city of Toledo has made massive upgrades to their drinking water plant and will continue to make improvements through 2022, we still wonder if the water is safe. I and my neighbors stockpile water just in case and wonder what the emergency plan is if our great city is crippled again by a toxic algae.

We also are watching our water rates rise as our confidence in the quality of the water decreases. Access to clean, safe, and affordable water is a right of all Ohioans. We must do better to protect our loved ones, by keeping the water quality dashboard active, rather than retiring it next year. Also, the city must do a better job of helping the residents understand how they are protecting us from another water crisis by explaining the process for treating any raw water with algal toxins and the emergency plan for any future toxic algae water crisis.

The writer, of West Toledo, is a University of Toledo public health student. To read full article click here.


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Images courtesy of Steven Huyser-Honig,
West Grand Boulevard Collaborative, & Yellow Dog Watershed Preserve.