Ohio to continue loans for water plant upgrades

mill creek park youngstown ohio pollution closed

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Ohio will make more money available next year for cities planning to fix their drinking water and wastewater treatment plants, continuing a program rolled out nearly a year ago after toxins from Lake Erie contaminated Toledo’s water supply.

WKBN is checking to see if any of that money will make its way to Youngstown.

Heavy June rains forced water from the Youngstown city sewer system to flood into Lake Newport in Mill Creek Park. That water led to fish dying, with many of their carcasses floating to the lake’s surface.

That fish kill was the first indication of trouble at the park’s lakes.

WKBN had the water independently tested, and a YSU professor analyzed the results, saying that the level of fecal coliform bacteria in the water was almost 10 times what it should be. A day after publishing those results, Mill Creek Park closed all its lakes indefinitely.

The state’s Environmental Protection Agency offers several programs. They can provide $150 million in no-interest loans for water-related upgrades according to Director Craig Butler.

Requests for money through the loan program have exceeded what was available this year, he said.

So far, almost half of this year’s money has been loaned out, while other requests are being processed. Mike Baker, chief of the EPA’s drinking water and ground water division, said cities along Lake Erie where the threat of algae has been ongoing were farther along in their planning and among the first to get their projects moving.

The loans can be used by communities statewide, but those in the Lake Erie watershed are a priority.

State Senator Joe Schiavoni is working on a separate funding mechanism. It would require action by the General Assembly and a vote of the people. Money would be spent on aging sewer and storm water systems in all major cities, Not Just Youngstown.

“Everybody has to do their part”, says Schiavoni. “So there has to be a state piece, a federal piece and a local piece”.

The state also will increase funding – from $1 million to $5 million next year – for communities to fix failing septic systems and stopping sewage from seeping into waterways, Butler said while touring the drinking water treatment plant in Put-in-Bay.

The resort town in western Lake Erie is considering upgrading its plant to deal with the growing threat of toxins from the lake water it uses to supply much of South Bass Island.

The plant slows down its drinking water treatment process when algae blooms are near the island to allow more time to filter the water, said David DeZeeuw, the village’s water superintendent. “We can take out anything we’ve seen in the lake,” he said.

The problem, he said, is “there’s no backup for us.”

He wants to put in a new $200,000 ozone filtration system by next year that would give the water plant another layer of protection if the toxins intensify. A new system also would allow the plant to produce more water during the summer months when tourists pour into the island, he said.

The algae bloom in the lake this year has circled the island and is expected to grow over the next month. It’s already larger than last year’s bloom and has strengthened this past week in the western end of Lake Erie near the Ohio and Michigan shorelines, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors the algae.

Algae blooms – linked to phosphorus from farm fertilizers, livestock manure and sewage treatment plants – typically peak from the middle of August through the end of September.

They turn the waters into a shade of green that looks like pea soup and also have been blamed for contributing to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can’t survive.

Senator Schiavoni says it needs to be done. “It’s a lofty goal, but I think it’s one that’s realistic because we’re not just talking about Youngstown”.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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