Mayor Collins: My analysis of our water incidentWritten by D. Michael Collins | | email@example.com
Editor’s Note: The following document was provided to Toledo City Council in the days following the Aug. 2-4 drinking water ban. Minor edits have been made for clarity.
I feel compelled to share the events and challenges faced as a result of the harmful algal bloom and its impact on our water supply.
The first thing I must suggest is we have a facility which is  years old. This system has served us well and in truth produced water of the highest quality anywhere in the United States. The science and engineering which were used in the construction of the plant were the finest the world had to offer.
When we look at the broader picture not all systems are the same, we use the natural resource from Lake Erie. There are other point sources such as rivers, deep-water wells, freshwater lakes, recycle systems and reservoirs. Our geographical location enables us to have one of the best sources for water on this planet.
Unfortunately, as a society we have been poor stewards of this marvelous nature’s gift. The multitude of discussions as to how we arrived at this compromised environmental challenge is not the final step, in my opinion; dialogue absent an action plan serves no positive outcome.
Due to this event we have been the focus of both the national and international media. I believe we must as a community and region act with one goal, and that is seek solutions, create policy and define the future for the future generations.
To those who assume we have more time, my question is what do we do when we run out of time?
I believe I must now advance this discussion to the events of Aug. 1-4, 2014. I offer the following as a chronologic record:
- Ohio EPA directed us to perform testing using a different protocol. The previous test protocol we used was in place and accepted for accuracy for the past several years. Testing results taken at 4:30 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. had results of 2.469 mg/L and 1.926 mg/L respectively. Both were nondetectable under the old method. Initially discussions with the Ohio EPA involved doing additional testing at locations outside of Toledo and evaluating our position at 8 a.m. Saturday morning.
- Shortly before 1 a.m. on Aug. 2, the Ohio EPA Director [Craig] Butler contacted Public Utility Director Ed Moore and recommended we should define the water as “Do Not Consume.” This was made public in a press release and in social media.
- The media release went out at 1:20 a.m. on Aug. 2, [City] Council President [Paula] Hicks-Hudson was contacted and a voice message was left at 1:21 a.m. Lucas County Sheriff John Tharp was called directly and calls were placed to media sources to stress the importance of the notification to the public.
- Sheriff Tharp contacted Lucas County officials and Lucas County Emergency Management Agency. Councilwoman Lindsay Webb texted members of City Council at approximately 2:23 a.m.
- The Lucas County Emergency Management Agency sent out a text alert at 3:43 a.m.: “All City of Toledo water customers are advised not to drink, boil or shower in the water until further notice.” This warning was not consistent with our declaration.
- We then moved to Critical Event Control Center and set it up in the Lucas County 911 Communication Center. The hours advanced and by 8 a.m. we established direct telephonic conference ability with Director Butler and his staff (Ohio EPA) and Gov. John Kasich.
- The operation was then divided into the operational response and the internal analysis from the plant.
- The discussions resulted in engaging the Ohio National Guard, the Ohio Highway Patrol, the private sector [including] Kroger, Walmart, Meijer and others. This endeavor was to be capable of logistically defining locations for distribution and collecting water for public allocation.
- The internal issues resulted in sending samples to the U.S. EPA in Cincinnati, Ohio EPA in Columbus, Lake Superior State University in Michigan and our own facility.
- There were several presentations to the media over the course of the day and information was provided to the extent we were facing this challenge and with Gov. Kasich and Director Butler and his staff all in place.
- As we moved into the early hours of Aug. 3, we had not received consistency in our collective testing and thus continued with the operational and internal efforts.
- Mid-afternoon on Aug. 3, the professionals in quality testing with the input of Jeff Reutter, Ph.D., from The Ohio State University, reached a consensus and one single test was the outcome. A document was prepared as a result of these discussions and signed off by Director Butler and myself.
- A key point to remember is this is the first time a single protocol (for detecting microcystin) was agreed to and it is now the standard for the State of Ohio.
- Late Aug. 3, in the conference call, the Ohio EPA, U.S. EPA and Gov. Kasich all opined that the directive of “Do Not Consume” could be lifted, based upon the latest outcome from the single standard test.
- Toledo’s test would not be available until around 3 a.m. on Aug. 4, it was decided we would wait until our test results were available.
- When the test results were available there were two sample area test results which were inconsistent with the 30 points of distribution samples. These locations were in Point Place and East Toledo.
- As part of a conference call with Director Butler and the governor, the city collected three distribution samples from the two locations that had inconsistent results.
- Collection and testing was complete around 8:45 a.m. on Aug. 4. The tests demonstrated all samples were in the nondetectable range and consistent with the original 28 samples.
- The system warning was lifted in a press conference at 9:25 a.m. on Aug. 4.
- Aug. 6, [Toledo Fire & Rescue Department] Chief [Luis] Santiago conducted a post-event “hot wash” (debriefing) and a final report will be forthcoming.
- Aug. 7, a meeting was held with our partners in other jurisdictions to discuss and create a protocol for future communications.
- Reflecting on this experience, there should have been a universal and direct contact system in place. In terms of our ability to inform the community, I would suggest my responsibility was to ensure we were capable of handling the incident and seeing that water was available to the community that could be used in the absence of safe tap water.
My total objective was to move the internal process to address the matter and keep the community from engaging in a state of panic.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with a citizen at a public event [after the water advisory]. He, I believe, gave me sage advice and a sound analysis of this incident. He defined this in three parts. First there are the Monday morning quarterbacks, second the academic who will lecture and opine with no real world experience and finally the individual in the leadership position who actually faces the adversity and challenge and takes action. I must also state that the professionalism and dedication of our employees, both classified and unclassified, defined the culture of the Toledo workforce. The other public servants from all jurisdictions and the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department stand out as true professional public servants. The safety and security of the community is paramount and all decisions were solely influenced with that responsibility in mind.
To close, I would be remiss if I failed to address the great response from the community. Our community responded and became directly involved in the distribution process. I said at the time and it deserves repeating, “Toledo has a populace of men and women of character, compassion and resolve” our future will be defined and this even, as unfortunate as it was, will serve us in our mission.
You will do better in Toledo!
Tags: algal bloom, Cincinnati, Columbus, Councilwoman Lindsay Webb, Critical Event Control Center, deep-water wells, East Toledo, freshwater lakes, Gov. John Kasich, Kroger, Lake Erie, Lake Superior State University, Lucas County Emergency Management Agency, Mayor D. Michael Collins, Meijer, microcystin, Ohio EPA, Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler, Ohio National Guard, Point Place, recycle systems, reservoirs, rivers, Sheriff Tharp, the Ohio Highway Patrol, Walmart, water supply