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Toledo Water Crisis Over? Conservationists say "Not Really"

PHOTO: The recent drinking water emergency in Toledo has some folks citing a critical need for more action to prevent toxic algae blooms on Lake Erie. Photo credit: NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory on Flickr.
PHOTO: The recent drinking water emergency in Toledo has some folks citing a critical need for more action to prevent toxic algae blooms on Lake Erie. Photo credit: NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory on Flickr.
August 6, 2014

TOLEDO, Ohio - Toledo's ban on drinking water may have been lifted, but many people still are sounding the alarm.

Nearly 500,000 residents were advised to not drink their tap water for three days after it was contaminated by a toxin produced by an algae bloom in Lake Erie.

Chris Moazed of Toledo, who chairs the Western Lake Erie Sierra Club, said the crisis affected people's lives and hurt businesses, recreation and tourism.

"People have just been everywhere in a mad rush looking for clean water," she said, "which is so essential for all of our daily needs."

Massive runoff pollution from farm fields in the Maumee River basin causes toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, which can create oxygen-deprived "dead zones" that can kill fish and sicken humans. Moazed said leaders need to take action to reduce the waste flowing into the state's rivers and lakes, including tougher regulations for farm runoff.

At the National Center for Water Quality Research, scientist Laura Johnson said algae blooms tend to widen and spread out, meaning this one could migrate to another part of Lake Erie. Without action, she warned, the problems are likely to worsen.

"One of the complicating factors is that the runoff is causing this issue," she said, "So, as climate change sort of becomes more prevalent in our region, we're anticipating more heavy rainstorms, it's going to be a difficult problem to fix. If we can get ahold of it now, then we're probably going to be better situated for the future."

Gov. John Kasich said state agencies are reviewing the incident and will continue to investigate ways to reduce the algae threats.

At the Ohio Chapter of the Sierra Club, conservation director Matt Trokan said he feels clean water is a human right and needs to be protected for the 11 million people who depend on drinking water from Lake Erie.

"We can't ignore the environment forever," he said. "We need to see real leadership at the state level to address this issue."

Trokan said he believes a good first step would be to label the Maumee watershed as "distressed," which would allow for more regulation of waste.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH