Toledo officials aim to build reservoir as backup to Lake Erie water source

·3 min read

Jul. 22—Toledo is poised to pitch a partnership with neighboring Oregon to add redundancy to its drinking water system as soon as officials find a suitable location to build a reservoir.

The proposed reservoir would be able to hold about one billion gallons of water and could provide up to 20 days of service in the event of an emergency, according to a city plan approved by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Adding redundancy to Toledo's drinking water system was a key point for suburban leaders who in 2019 agreed to 40-year water contracts with the city of Toledo. Toledo officials and their counterparts from Lucas, Fulton, and Monroe counties, Whitehouse, Sylvania, Maumee, Perrysburg, and the Northwest Water and Sewer District agreed after months of negotiations to form a new Regional Water Commission instead of breaking off into smaller water systems.

Part of that deal was to give suburban leaders a say in infrastructure improvements and to make customer water rates more equitable. Adding a backup water source was top of the list for many after toxic algae rendered Toledo's water undrinkable for all or part of three days in 2014.

Toledo officials studied several options, including building a new water intake into Lake Erie, and found constructing a shared reservoir with Oregon's water treatment system was most economical.

Ed Moore, Toledo's public utilities director, said building a reservoir makes more sense than constructing an additional intake because if there's an issue with Lake Erie, the utility could instead tap the reservoir to continue service to its customers. And if there were a different emergency with an intake, Toledo could pull water from the reservoir while Oregon simultaneously pumped water into it — or vice versa.

"It would add redundancy for both Oregon and Toledo," Mr. Moore said. "We'd have a really, really robust system at that point."

Toledo officials now need to secure at least 200 acres upon which to build the reservoir, a project estimated to cost about $100 million and take about eight years to complete. Mr. Moore said plans are preliminary, and no cost-sharing agreement has yet been worked out with Oregon.

Mike Beazley, Oregon's city administrator, said Oregon has its own independent water treatment and distribution system and intends to remain that way, but he is open to learning more about the proposed reservoir.

"The EPA is really encouraging Toledo to look at these steps, and some of those solutions might be in the best interest of Oregon to partner with them. We'll be open to listening," he said.

Toledo is more than half way through a $500 million overhaul to its water treatment and distribution system mandated by the Ohio EPA.

"Any of the major projects are either in construction or complete. There's just a few small projects that are yet to begin construction," Andy McClure, administrator of the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant, told the Regional Water Commission this week.

Basins 5 and 6, which were built in the 1950s and refurbished as part of the system-wide upgrade, have been back in service for about five months, he said. Another milestone is completion of a $54 million installation of ozone-treatment equipment, which has been operational for almost a month.

"The ozone system was the top recommendation from the blue-ribbon panel after the do-not-drink order," Mr. Moore said. "It is the big gun against microcystis."

Microcystis is the main type of harmful blue-green algae in the open water of western Lake Erie.

Basins 3 and 4, constructed in 1940, are undergoing improvements and should be back in service by March, 2022. Basins 1 and 2 will follow, and Mr. McClure said he expects those improvements will be done by March, 2023.

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