Ohio EPA, City Pledge to Work Together

Posted in: Drinking Water News, Ground Water News, Health effects, United States Water News, Water Technology
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Craig W. Butler, Ohio EPA Director (Photo credit: The Blade)

Article Courtesy of Tom Henry|The Blade|September 19, 2014|Shared as Educational Material

Although the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency continues to push Toledo officials for long-overdue upgrades to the city’s Collins Park Water Treatment Plant, the tone of recent correspondence between the agency and the city suggests the two sides have become more cordial toward each other.

Mike Baker, the Ohio EPA’s drinking and ground waters division chief, said in a Sept. 9 letter to Ed Moore, Toledo’s public utilities director, that he is “encouraged by the suggested change in the city’s approach to short and long range planning and decision making” and that “it is clear from our [Aug. 21 meeting] that the city is now addressing that long-term planning need while committing to those critical improvement projects.”

Mr. Baker’s letter said the two sides have discussed the need to build a “strong and cooperative working relationship and ways to improve efficiency of communication,” through monthly conference calls and other efforts.

“While Ohio EPA is encouraged by your organizational changes and revised approach to long-term decision making, I cannot underscore more emphatically the need for the city to immediately address the more critical items listed here and discussed during our meeting,” Mr. Baker wrote.

He cited the need for more improvements to the city’s low service pump station, more alum storage, a re-examination of its treatment process for algal toxins, and the development of a contingency plan.

The Ohio EPA recommends Toledo replace the pump station or, at a minimum, replace that facility’s four cone check valves and 16 shutoff valves.

“They are at the end of their useful life. Failure will cause damage to the newly rehabilitated pumps and potentially the pump station,” Mr. Baker’s letter stated.

The letter cites how the city barely avoided another state of emergency two weeks after the one during the first weekend of August, when 500,000 metro residents were left without safe tap water.

“As we saw the weekend of Aug. 16, simply maximizing chemical feeds may not be enough,” Mr. Baker’s letter said. “It is also necessary to find ways to increase treatment for toxins. The city needs to evaluate alternatives and determine the best approach quickly for installation to occur prior to HAB [harmful algal bloom] season next year.”

Warren Henry, an engineer the city recently brought in to oversee upgrades at the Collins Park facility, recently told The Blade a temporary treatment process is expected to be in place before next season’s bloom. Neither he nor the plant manager, Andy McClure, said they were ready to discuss what kind of structure is likely.

It would be a stop-gap to provide additional treatment until the plant’s new permanent treatment unit is completed and online, probably in 2019, they said during a recent tour.

In the letter, Mr. Baker encouraged the city to take advantage of the Ohio EPA’s recent offer of no-interest loans for infrastructure work that could help combat algal blooms.

“I am encouraged by our discussions and the City’s commitment to a more proactive and robust planning and decision making process,” Mr. Baker wrote in his letter to Mr. Moore. “I look forward to working with you to build a reliable and sustainable water system that meets the City of Toledo’s needs now and into the future.”

Mayor D. Michael Collins said he’s pleased by the progress the city has made in a short time, both in planning for long-overdue work at the facility and in improving its relationship with the Ohio EPA, which only weeks ago told The Blade that a rare attempt of a state takeover had been among the options it was considering.

Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler did not reference the letter during an interview with The Blade Thursday morning, but has said in recent weeks the city was making progress.

The tone of a June 9 letter from Mr. Butler to Mr. Collins suggested the two sides were previously far apart.

In that letter, Mr. Butler warned the mayor the 73-year-old plant “is vulnerable to potential failures that could impact the city’s ability to provide adequate quantities of safe water to citizens” and said he could not “underscore boldly enough the precarious condition of Toledo’s drinking water system and the imminent vulnerability to failure.”

A former Ohio EPA director, Chris Jones, now an environmental lawyer in Columbus, said that letter and its harsh tone is rare between a regulator and a mayor, and was intended to send a message to the city about a sense of urgency.

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