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Monday, August 18, 2014

ALGAE: Meet Annie, Fannie, and Mike. They're toxic. #LEcaucus


Keep it simple. And use cartoons if possible.

When explaining a difficult and often technical subject like toxic algae threatening the future of Lake Erie, simplicity goes a long way helping increase both awareness and understanding.

Our hat's off to Toledo Blade's Tom Henry for helping explain the problem in layman's terms. The cartoons above are ours, but Henry's explanation of the factors in the blooms and their history is good stuff.

Toxic algae comes down to three organisms that have been around a long time: Anabaena (which scientists call Annie), Aphanizomenon (Fannie), and Microcystis (Mike). As Henry explains, they are not new (and "they are not your friends" because they can affect our health), but factors have thrown our Great Lake's system out of balance.

Friday's Lake Erie Caucus allowed a 5+ hour public forum to discuss the issue and possible long-term solutions, inspired by the recent three-day "Do not drink the water" order in Lucas County.

Some of the blooms' contributing factors include phosphorus, a naturally occurring element which feeds algal blooms when levels get too high. While our wastewater treatment plants do remove more than 80% of the phosphorus they receive, much of the lake's problems are exacerbated by unregulated runoff from fertilized surfaces like lawns and farms.

You can read tweets from Friday's caucus using the hashtag #LEcaucus.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

ALGAE: 5 things you should know before Friday's state Lake Erie algae meeting

Collecting beach water quality samples at Villa Angela Beach in Cleveland.

Since State Senator Randy Gardner and Representative Chris Redfern are hosting a special meeting of the Lake Erie Legislative Caucus this Friday—focusing on algae problems plaguing the lake and, most recently, the Toledo area’s drinking water—here are 5 important points to help frame the discussion.

The toxic algae problem has been recurring for years. Then again, river fires were once a recurring problem, too.
We believe Toledo's water emergency could be the Cuyahoga River fire of this generation. Few realize that the 1969 blaze was one of at least 13 different Cuyahoga River fires since 1860; the last event became a turning point for many reasons, inspiring the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Water Act. It inspired action.

"It took numerous fires on the river and decades to develop and implement a regulatory strategy to address the issues that faced the Cuyahoga River and other waterways at that time," says Director of Watershed Programs Frank Greenland. "We cannot afford to wait to develop a comprehensive response to the issue of algal blooms in our waterways. Public health depends upon an appropriate and timely response."

Could this be that moment?

LIST: 7 ways back-to-school jitters are like treating wastewater

Parents, it’s that time of year again. And we can make a few connections between our work and your kids’ first-day jitters that you might not have expected. Class is in session.


1. Sure maybe it stinks, but where would you be without it?
OK, the end of summer may not stink in the literal sense (wastewater work has plenty of unique literal scents of its own). But while you might not be excited about your first day back, you need it. Same thing with wastewater treatment: You wouldn’t last long without it.


2. Your supplies list tends to be pretty pricey.
As parents, students’ supplies lists seem to make our jaws drop. A $198 million sewer tunnel like the Euclid Creek Tunnel, for example, tends to generate the same response, but when it can store 60 million gallons of water to prevent spilling pollution, it helps put things into perspective.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

VIDEO: Want to know how sewage plants manage algae-causing phosphorus? Here's the only 1-minute video you need.



A major contributor to toxic algae threatening Lake Erie is phosphorus, a key component of agricultural fertilizers and a building block of life itself.

While most of it flows to the lake from stormwater runoff, wastewater plants must monitor and manage phosphorus as it makes its way through the regional sewer system.

In 2013, our three treatment plants removed more than 745 tons of phosphorus from wastewater they received. In the video above, Operator Christen Wood explains the methods used at our Southerly plant and how we balance phosphorus' good, bad, and ugly potential, all in less than one minute.

But keep in mind, the algae mess in Lake Erie is years in the making, and there is no quick or easy fix. It will require a thoughtful combination of these treatment techniques, stormwater management, sewer improvements, personal responsibility, and legislation to keep our Great Lake great.

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Monday, August 4, 2014

OPINION: Toledo's "Do not drink" order should be a wake-up call


Much like the 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River, it takes catastrophic events to get real action.

This weekend, in Toledo, a large population base was adversely impacted and could not use its potable water system for the most basic needs, cooking and drinking. We need to ask ourselves: Should this be happening in 2014?

The answer is simple: No.

For decades, leaders at all levels have known about the factors, including polluted stormater runoff, which was a major cause of the situation in Toledo. For years, the wastewater industry has been aggressively pushing the need for a broad-based approach to deal with non-point pollution and stormwater management. In Greater Cleveland, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District developed a program, the Regional Stormwater Management Program, to address regional stormwater problems like runoff. Unfortunately our authority to carry out this program has been delayed by litigation that will soon be decided by the Ohio Supreme Court. In the meantime, stormwater problems, like erosion, flooding and water quality issues, will only continue to increase in our region.

We in Greater Cleveland are fortunate to have a water system that sits in a better strategic position and is constructed with ample redundancy to assure reliability. So we do not have a problem now. But we would be foolhardy to not consider our vulnerability in the future and our region's contributions to non-point sources that foul our waterways that feed into Lake Erie.

This event highlights the importance of our continued investments in treatment facilities, the mitigation of sewage overflows, maintenance and renewal of local sewage-collection systems, and the need to manage stormwater on a regional basis.

Julius Ciaccia
Executive Director

Saturday, August 2, 2014

NEWS: "Do not drink" water order in Toledo, surrounding communities is a sobering call to action


Early Saturday morning, Lucas County issued an alarming "Do not drink the water" alert affecting 19 communities and more than 400,000 residents. The directive is due to exceedingly high levels of microcystin, a toxin produced by toxic algae blooms.

While the alert is outside of our and Cleveland Division of Water's service areas, the action is related to events that affect many of our customers in Northeast Ohio, and the relationship is worth noting.

Toledo's news is a tragic example of the importance of protecting our water resources, particularly Lake Erie.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

BREAKING: Supreme Court sets September 9 date to hear #StormwaterProgram case

In a week in which heavy storms flooded and affected many communities in eastern Cleveland suburbs, the Ohio Supreme Court has set a date for hearing oral arguments of a monumental case of regional stormwater management.

The Ohio Supreme Court will hear arguments September 9, in which the Sewer District will present its case that it is authorized to charge a fee and manage problems caused by stormwater runoff across the region.

The fee was expected to collect $35 million per year to address cross-community stream flooding, erosion and maintenance issues until an appeals court ruling suspended the program last September.

Since then, several significant storms have wreaked havoc on local communities while $20 million has sat in escrow while the program is halted.

"It is clear a majority of the Sewer District’s member communities and others understand the significant benefit of the program," Sewer District Executive Director Julius Ciaccia has stated previously.

“This case...is of great public interest, not just to our region, but to all Ohioans,” said Director of Law Marlene Sundheimer.

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