water

Work continues to control harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News It’s been five years now since portions of Lake Erie turned to “green pea soup” and thousands of people in the region were advised to not use Toledo water for three days. Since then, several steps have been taken to ensure that doesn’t happen again. However, the work is far from over, BGSU biologist George Bullerjahn told the Bowling Green League of Women Voters earlier this week. Bullerjahn is one of the experts the region turned to in 2014 when the lake turned green. He is also one of the scientists who saw the problem emerging before it became a big enough crisis to get national notice. “If you’re a scientist, we could see this coming,” Bullerjahn said, referring to a smaller harmful algal bloom in 2013 in Carroll Township, east of Toledo along the lake. The algal bloom that hit in 2014 wasn’t huge – but it was “insanely toxic,” he explained. Bullerjahn and others have been able to determine that a massive release of toxins from the blooms occurred over that weekend five years ago, so much that it could not be effectively handled by the chemical treatment at Toledo’s water plant. For some residents of the region, that event eroded their confidence in local entities to properly treat water from the lake. “There was a loss of public trust,” Bullerjahn said. “I still know people today who will only drink bottled water.” But there seems to be a true desire to fix Lake Erie’s health. “Water quality issues cross party lines,” Bullerjahn said. “I do think there is some momentum to change – at least in the Great Lakes.” The Drinking Water Protection Act tasked the EPA with coming up with standards for toxin levels. And 47 members of the House – from both sides of the aisle – wrote President-elect Trump early in 2017 about the need for algal bloom research. This region is not alone in watching its water turn to green goop. Lake Victoria in Kenya is suffering from sewage contamination, and Taihu in China is plagued by agricultural runoff. Lake Okeechobee in Florida is far worse than Lake Erie – with 50 years of sediment in the water, he said. “People from Florida call me all the time,” seeking his expertise on the issue and asking if they should sell their land in the area near Okeechobee. Bullerjahn politely explains he knows biology – not real estate. In that region, large corporate farms are “driving the problem,” Bullerjahn said. And climate change contributes, with more rain causing more runoff. But there seems to be some appetite in this region, he said, to prevent the harmful algal blooms from returning with such intensity to Lake Erie. Those intentions led, last year, to Lake Erie being designated as “impaired.” Bullerjahn was one of the experts assigned to figuring out exactly what that entailed. The scientists were given a box of doughnuts and coffee, and told to come up with a metric to declare the lake impaired and the metric to dismiss that designation if possible in the future, he said. The standards require that Lake Erie have six consecutive years of healthy monitoring results before it can shed the designation. Though some officials were fearful of the impact from the “impaired” declaration, Bullerjahn said the lake met the definition. “A charter boat captain will tell you it’s impaired if he has to power up to get through,” he said. To monitor the water, sensors have been deployed throughout the Great Lakes. Initially, the monitors were set up to…

Read More

Search for water extends west to wells, north to Detroit

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   As Lake Erie starts to take on a green tint again this summer, entities north of Bowling Green are  scouting for quality, affordable water – with no clear source in sight. So the search continues, now shifting west to an underground water source, and north to Detroit. Proposals change by the week, according to representatives of the Northwestern Water and Sewer District, who recently updated the Wood County Commissioners on the issue affecting much of the northern half of the county. The district provides water to 6,500 customers in Northwood, Rossford, Walbridge, Lake Township, Perrysburg Township and Troy Township. The water is purchased from the city of Toledo – and future contracts with the city are on shaky ground. The proposed Toledo Area Water Authority – which many had pinned their hopes on as a solution that would work for the entire region – appears to be dead in the water, according to Jerry Greiner, executive director of the district. Toledo balked at the idea of sharing ownership of its water plant, even though it meant other entities would then help with the towering expenses to update the plant. “Whether you’re the city of Toledo or Bloomdale, cities don’t want to give up their utilities,” said Rex Huffman, attorney for the district. But the district, Huffman said, sees the water customers as the owners – not the city. With the sinking of the TAWA plan, Toledo is now offering another possible option. Last week, Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz talked about establishing a regional water commission with representatives from each community that buys Toledo’s water. The commission would then set water rates for all customers based on the true cost of service and would make decisions about capital improvements. The district is willing to consider any viable option, Greiner and Huffman said. “Some easily dismiss it, and say ‘I don’t want to deal with Toledo.’ But I think that’s a mistake,” Huffman said. The district may support this concept if it meets the long-term goal of reasonable, uniform, fair water rates, Greiner said. Water customers in Wood County share one priority. “That’s the number in the lower right hand corner of their bill,” Huffman said. Toledo rates have always been the lowest in the region – but major improvements are needed at the water plant, Greiner said. Bowling Green and Oregon rates are good, but both would need expansions to serve the district. So the district is continuing to consider all its water options, Greiner said. That includes a groundwater source through Artesian of Pioneer, in the northwest corner of Ohio. “They happen to be sitting on one of the largest fresh water aquifers in our part of the world,” Huffman said of the aquifer that extends into Michigan. “They tell us it’s an underground Lake Erie – that’s how big it is.” The district and other area entities in search of water are even looking as far away as Detroit. Unlike Lake Erie, where the algal blooms are showing up again this summer, Lake Huron has no harmful algae. The city of Detroit is sitting on extra water, since industries are using less water, and there are fewer residents to serve. The city of Sylvania is leaning pretty seriously toward Detroit water, according to Doug Miller, of the district board. Water from Detroit already goes as far south as Monroe, he said. “Transporting water a long way is expensive, but not as expensive as we used to think,” Huffman said. “It’s all about what our customers pay. We’re trying to find the…


Perrysburg thirsty for answers – touring BG water plant

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   The water deal with Toledo is seemingly sunk, so it looks like Plan B for communities searching for quality water may be Bowling Green. Perrysburg city officials are touring the Bowling Green water treatment plant on Wednesday. “We’ve tried to answer questions for them,” Bowling Green Public Utilities Director Brian O’Connell said Monday evening to the city’s utilities board. “I’m not sure where it’s going to go,” O’Connell said. “They are in an information gathering phase.” Concerns about water quality, quantity and costs had resulted in a possible regional water system with Toledo in the center. However, that plan – called the Toledo Area Water Authority – was torpedoed by Toledo officials who weren’t happy with the terms. An earlier study conducted by the Wood County Economic Development Commission had identified Bowling Green as the top option for a regional water source. However, O’Connell said Bowling Green didn’t pursue any talks about expanding its customer base. “We didn’t want to look like we wanted to torpedo the TAWA,” O’Connell said. Bowling Green already sells water wholesale to Grand Rapids, Tontogany and Waterville. O’Connell has heard that with TAWA being sunk, Bowling Green water is being studied as an option by Perrysburg, Maumee and the Northwestern Water and Sewer District. For decades, those entities have purchased water from Toledo. However, the status quo was disrupted in the past few years by several concerns about Toledo water quality and cost. Toledo has been ordered to make many water system improvements, with the costs being passed on to customers who already pay large surcharges. Complaints from communities have shown growing dissatisfaction over the rates and the water quality since the Toledo system went through the algal bloom crisis of 2014. The TAWA agreement focused on providing economic savings and environmentally safe water. The proposal called for a redundant water supply source, so the 2014 water crisis would not be repeated. And it called for transparency in the pricing structure. In the last decade, water rates from Toledo doubled the rate of inflation. Bowling Green’s water became a topic of interest for neighboring entities when Poggemeyer Design Group studied water options at the request of the Wood County Economic Development Commission. The commission asked for the study a couple years back when Toledo was a less than willing partner in the regional negotiations. So Poggemeyer Design Group identified three options including Bowling Green water, a water intake at the Bayshore power plant, and a Maumee River intake. During the collection of data on the options, Bowling Green rose as the top choice of the alternatives. The benefits identified with Bowling Green water include the fact that it is an existing operation, would have the lowest capital costs, has state-of-the-art technology, and has an existing customer services agreement with the district. Bowling Green also has land for expansion at the water treatment plant, and has a history of cooperation with other political entities. Bowling Green could also benefit from the agreement. The city would continue to own and operate its facility, and could benefit from lower operating costs, more reservoir capacity, more treatment flexibility and more transmission redundancy.


Toledo deal likely dead in the water, but search for options continues

By JERRY GREINER President, Northwestern Water & Sewer District At The District, we continue to explore options for water for our 6,500 customers in Northern Wood County who are currently served with water provided by The City of Toledo. The District owns and operates the water and sewer systems within the political subdivisions of Northwood, Rossford, Walbridge, Lake Township, Perrysburg Township, and Troy Township.  We have provided quality water services to these communities for years and will continue to focus on quality water and fair rates during these talks. If you are confused by media reports or are wondering where The District stands, hopefully, this summary can clear things up.  Keep in mind that talks continue and there are new developments daily, so the opinion in this entry is subject to change. The Toledo Area Water Authority (TAWA) The Toledo Chamber of Commerce-led proposal for Toledo to share ownership of their plant etc. has stalled most likely ended.  The current mayor of Toledo’s representative said they had no support from Toledo City Council to proceed with it.  The Toledo Chamber has done a remarkable job with the effort and expense and continues to have hope in some form of regional cooperation.  The District continues to participate in TAWA discussions, but at this point does not see it moving forward. TOLEDO WATER COMMISSION IDEA In late May, Toledo Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz proposed a regional water commission.  In this plan, water purchasers (like The District) could buy water at a wholesale rate and have a “commission-like” board seat that would oversee rates.  However, Toledo would withhold the right to set final rates and retain ownership.  A technical committee has been meeting to review details of this plan. I think our Board of Trustees may support this idea for this concept as it meets our long-term goal; reasonable, uniform fair water rates.  While it keeps all suburban parties at the table, until Toledo’s council “weighs-in” on this idea, it’s just more talk.   PERRYSBURG-MAUMEE-THE NORTHWESTERN WATER AND SEWER DISTRICT AND THE CITY OF BOWLING GREEN Last Thursday, The District’s Board of Trustees passed a resolution to partner with the Cities of Perrysburg and Maumee to fund exploring alternative water options, of which there are several under consideration.  For example: Continued talks with the city of Bowling Green Discussions with Artesian of Pioneer (AOP) on a groundwater source Review of using Ottawa County as a water source A request for detailed specifics on what all parties require (RFQ) will soon be issued. SUMMARY The devil is in the details, which will hopefully be outlined by the end of this year.  Once we have them, we plan on hosting a public meeting and sharing our preferred alternative.   There are many options to consider, some reasonable, some not based on distance, water capacity or water quality concerns.  The District team is focused on fair rates and delivering quality water.  We encourage our members and our customers reach out to us with questions.  More to come…


BG water rates hiked 6 percent annually for next 5 years

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green will see a 6 percent bump in its water rates each year for the next five years. The increase was approved by the Board of Public Utilities earlier this week as a way to keep the water expenses afloat. The new rates, which go into effect in June, are based on a rate study by Courtney & Associates found that revenues need to be hiked by 32 percent by 2022. While the 32 percent hike may sound big, even with the proposed rate increases, Bowling Green’s water rates will be much lower than those in some other communities in the region, according to the rate study. The average homeowner currently pays a monthly water bill of $11.46. With the five-year increase, that bill will be $16 a month. That compares to monthly bills more than $50 in Perrysburg, Napoleon and Fremont. John Courtney, who presented the water rate study, said Bowling Green has been able to keep its water rates low because city officials decided years ago to use money from income tax revenues to help fund the city water system. “Your rates are still the lowest on the list,” Courtney told the Board of Public Utilities. But the income tax fund made up 40 percent of the water rate expenses 10 years ago. That shrunk to 33 percent five years ago, and is now about 23 percent. “Your costs are going up,” Courtney said. The city has seen some growth in wholesale water sales to communities outside Bowling Green, but very little growth in water demands in the city. “Your sales have been fairly stable over the last several years,” Courtney said. The city has not increased its water rates since 2016. Meanwhile operating expenses continue to increase. At current rates, the different categories of water customers generate the following annual revenues: Residential, $1,025,800 Commercial/industrial, $2,307,100 Wholesale, $2,178,900 Hydrant, $35,900 The proposed rate changes called for: Phase-in increases over the next five years. Increase rates to result in an increase in revenue of approximately 6 percent each year. Increase the residential customer charge to recover projected billing and collection costs. Transition outside surcharge to 50 percent by test year 2022. “In your case, there’s justification for the outside surcharge because of the income tax,” Courtney said. Following is a breakdown of Bowling Green’s rates compared to other cities in the region. The average monthly water bill for residences in Bowling Green is $11.46. After five years of incremental increases, the average monthly bill will be $16. That compares to current monthly rates of $51.63 in Perrysburg, $50.55 in Napoleon, $50.50 in Fremont, and $19.16 in Findlay. The same is true of commercial water bills. Right now, the average monthly commercial water bill is $58.55 in Bowling Green. Five years of increases will boost that to $80.73 per month. That compares to $202.27 in Napoleon, $172.11 in Perrysburg, $170.34 in Fremont, and $84.82 in Findlay. Likewise with the industrial water bills, which average $567.33 in Bowling Green now, and will rise to $774.74 at the end of five years. The new rates will still be lower than the average $1,936 in Napoleon, $1,721.10 in Perrysburg, $1,320.05 in Fremont, and $826.19 in Findlay.  


Clean Lake 2020 Plan earns bipartisan support

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   A perfect storm of sorts has led to the latest effort to fight for the health of Lake Erie – including weather projections of a moderate to bad year for algal blooms. So far this year, the lake has been the focus of a federal court order, U.S. EPA emphasis, Ohio EPA impairment declaration and a less than ideal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast. “All these factors created a sense of urgency that perhaps should have already been there,” State Senator Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green, said. And others in the state legislature seem to agree, showing strong bipartisan support in the General Assembly as a bill and a proposed statewide bond issue was introduced Wednesday in the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives. The Clean Lake 2020 Plan, introduced by Gardner and State Rep. Steve Arndt, R-Port Clinton, includes funding of up to $36 million in 2018 for efforts to reduce algal blooms through conservation practices and other Lake Erie initiatives. Also proposed is a Clean Water Ohio Bond Issue that would appropriate $100 million per year for 10 years after statewide approval by voters. Gardner believes that even those Ohio voters at the southern end of the state will support the bond issue since it involves help for more than just Lake Erie. The Ohio River has also seen its share of algal bloom problems. But the primary focus will be on Lake Erie, since an estimated 5 million people rely on the lake for drinking water, and tens of thousands of jobs depend on the lake. “That demands that the priority be on Lake Erie,” he said. The Ohio EPA’s declaration that the open waters of Lake Erie are impaired means little if the state doesn’t act, Gardner said. “The most important thing is – what do we do about it,” he said. “It’s what we do from now.” “Almost everyone realizes there’s a lot of work to be done to help the lake,” he said. One of the biggest factors in the algal bloom issue is something state legislators can’t control – heavy rainfall events. “It just means we have to be more aggressive and spend more on the right strategies to get it done,” Gardner said. The Clean Lake 2020 Plan has not only garnered bipartisan support in the state legislature, but also support from farm, environmental and business groups. They all seem to realize that since the lake is worth millions of dollars to the state, it’s worth spending money to defend it, Gardner said. But voters’ support will also be needed to provide long-term funding to fix the lake. “We’ve been reluctant to go to the ballot before now,” he said. The Clean Lake 2020 Plan includes the following provisions: Ohio State Sea Grant/Stone Lab: Capital funds of $2.65 million for research lab space and in-lake monitoring equipment consisting of real-time buoys and water-treatment plant monitoring devices. Healthy Lake Erie Initiative: Additional investment of $10 million (on top of the $10 million in the just-passed Capital Appropriations Act) to support projects to reduce open lake disposal of dredged materials into Lake Erie by 2020, as Ohio law requires. Soil & Water Conservation Support Fund: Funding of $3.5 million to support county soil and water conservation districts in the Western Lake Erie Basin for staffing and to assist in soil testing, nutrient management plan development, enhanced filter strips and water management, and other conservation support. Targeted Phosphorus Reduction Fund: Funding of up to $20 million at the Ohio Department of Agriculture, in consultation with the Lake…


BG water rates staggered to make easier to swallow

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN BG Independent News   Bowling Green’s water rates are not bringing in enough to keep the water expenses afloat. A rate study by Courtney & Associates has found that revenues need to be hiked by 32 percent by 2022. If approved, those rate increases will be spread out over five years, with a 6 percent bump each year. While the 32 percent hike may sound big, even with the proposed rate increases, Bowling Green’s water rates will be much lower than those in some other communities in the region. The average homeowner currently pays a monthly water bill of $11.46. With the five-year increase, that bill will be $16 a month. That compares to monthly bills more than $50 in Perrysburg, Napoleon and Fremont. Though the total water revenue will need to be boosted by 32 percent over five years, the levels will be different for each category. Residential will be increased 44 percent over that period; commercial and industrial will go up 29 percent; wholesale will increase 28 percent; and hydrant costs will go up 143 percent. John Courtney, who presented the water rate study, said Bowling Green has been able to keep its water rates low because city officials decided years ago to use money from income tax revenues to help fund the city water system. “Your rates are still the lowest on the list,” Courtney told the Board of Public Utilities last week. “That’s awesome,” replied Mike Frost, president of the Board of Public Utilities. But the income tax fund made up 40 percent of the water rate expenses 10 years ago. That shrunk to 33 percent five years ago, and is now about 23 percent. “Your costs are going up,” Courtney said. The city has seen some growth in wholesale water sales to communities outside Bowling Green, but very little growth in water demands in the city. “Your sales have been fairly stable over the last several years,” Courtney said. The city has not increased its water rates since 2016. Meanwhile operating expenses continue to increase. At current rates, the different categories of water customers generate the following annual revenues: Residential, $1,025,800 Commercial/industrial, $2,307,100 Wholesale, $2,178,900 Hydrant, $35,900 The proposed rate changes called for: Phase-in increases over the next five years. Increase rates to result in an increase in revenue of approximately 6 percent each year. Increase the residential customer charge to recover projected billing and collection costs. Transition outside surcharge to 50 percent by test year 2022. “In your case, there’s justification for the outside surcharge because of the income tax,” Courtney said. Following is a breakdown of Bowling Green’s rates compared to other cities in the region. The average monthly water bill for residences in Bowling Green is $11.46. After five years of incremental increases, the average monthly bill will be $16. That compares to current monthly rates of $51.63 in Perrysburg, $50.55 in Napoleon, $50.50 in Fremont, and $19.16 in Findlay. The same is true of commercial water bills. Right now, the average monthly commercial water bill is $58.55 in Bowling Green. Five years of increases will boost that to $80.73 per month. That compares to $202.27 in Napoleon, $172.11 in Perrysburg, $170.34 in Fremont, and $84.82 in Findlay. Likewise with the industrial water bills, which average $567.33 in Bowling Green now, and will rise to $774.74 at the end of five years. The new rates will still be lower than the average $1,936 in Napoleon, $1,721.10 in Perrysburg, $1,320.05 in Fremont, and $826.19 in Findlay. The board of public utilities will consider a decision on the rate proposal…