Toledo Water Council Makes Progress on Water Affordability
By Alexis Smith, Freshwater Future Staff Member and Junction Community Resident
In 2018, the City of Toledo pushed through a plan to regionalize governance of the Toledo water utility that sells water to suburbs at wholesale prices and substantially increases water rates for residents living in the City. Toledo rates are expected to increase by about 60% over the next five years. Even prior to this regionalization, Junction Coalition, a community-based organization in a low-income neighborhood, had been tackling environmental and social justice issues for years. This community organization partnered with a number of local and national environmental organizations to focus on green infrastructure projects which led to the installations of bioswales and rain gardens, urban gardening to combat food deserts, and the transformation of vacant lots in their community to green, usable spaces.
In response to the decision to regionalize water and the rising rates in Toledo, Junction Coalition partnered with Freshwater Future to form the Toledo Community Water Council. While the Junction community stands to be among the hardest hit communities impacted by the rising water rates, the Toledo Community Water Council serves as a platform where concerned citizens all over Toledo can voice their concerns and create opportunities to influence the decisions made around drinking water.
As a result of this collaborative partnership, amazing progress has been made, such that, the advocacy of these residents has now moved the City to accomplish the following:
- Debt Forgiveness Ordinance passed that community members were able to help draft.
- Tenant Landlord Ordinance passed, also with community members helping to draft.
- Hired a premier consultant to conduct a Water Affordability Study upon urging from the community, the Toledo Water Council and Freshwater Future.
Freshwater Future partnered with the City of Toledo and Blue Conduit to submit a grant to use an innovative tool to inventory the city’s water distribution lines for lead and educate residents on how to protect themselves from lead-in water. By utilizing these cutting edge tools, the project should help reduce costs of removing lead pipes, thereby reducing further price increases. (See adjacent box.)
In addition to ensuring residents have access to safe and affordable drinking water, members of the Water Council are also focusing on educating their neighbors on other environmental justice issues that impact the quality of and access to water such as harmful algal blooms and the public health risks of lead in water.
This collaborative work to help bring the wisdom and strength of residents’ voices to the decision-making processes around drinking water has shown that community involvement improves the results by ensuring the needs of residents are at the forefront.