Toledo invests $1 billion in water treatment plant

J. Patrick Eaken

        A toxic algal bloom may continue to flourish in the western basin of Lake Erie this summer, but Toledo water officials say there is little chance that any substantial amount of poisonous microcystin will again be found in city’s drinking water.
        “We absolutely believe that the cities are doing their share to deal with cleaning up our lake,” said Edward A. Moore, director of the city’s department of utilities. “We also believe though that the state could do more to help prevent the nutrient runoff that is the primary cause of our algae issue.”
        In 2011 the city issued a three-day drinking water ban covering the Toledo service area, affecting over 100,000 service taps and 500,000 residents.
        In the five years since, $132.7 million has been invested into improving the Collins Park Water Treatment plant in East Toledo. In addition, millions more have been provided to various agencies and universities for research.
        In total, Moore estimates it adds up to $1 billion dollars, including $500 million in capital improvements.
        “We’ve experienced ongoing support from our emergency management partners and health departments at the local and state levels, in collaboration with our regulatory agencies, the U.S. and Ohio EPAs,” Moore said. “We have benefited from zero percent interest loans from the State of Ohio for some of the upgrades at the plant.
        The government has provided millions of dollars for source water quality research and voluntary measures to reduce nonpoint nutrient loading in the watershed, according to Moore.
        “While these initiatives are positive, Toledo has spent more than half a billion dollars to reduce water pollution through its permitted point sources, and another half a billion on needed water treatment upgrades, with the cost born solely by the customers,” said Moore.
        “Allocating state or federal grants that would not have to be repaid, or providing debt forgiveness for current loans for these major and effective infrastructure improvements, could help alleviate some financial pressure on our ratepayers.  These same ratepayers fund the government grants with their tax dollars and would therefore benefit directly from this action.”
        Improvements to the Collins Park Water Treatment Plant began in 2015, one year after the water crisis, and will be complete in 2023. The plant filters about 75 million gallons of water per day and is powered by two generators and five back-up generators.
        So far this summer, 99 percent of a $23.8 million electrical upgrade is complete, 39 percent of a $55 million addition of two treatment basins is complete, 71 percent of $10 million in improvements to the maintenance facility and chemical building is complete, and seven percent of a new $43.9 million ozone treatment facility, a technology designed to treat the microcystin, is complete.
        “Based on the recommendation of a Blue Ribbon Panel that was commissioned after the 2014 tap water ban, we’re in the process of adding ozone water treatment as a final barrier to harmful algal blooms,” Moore said. “Ozone treatment along with the addition of biologically active filters will allow us to rest easier in our fight against toxic algae. 
        “Ozone forms when oxygen in the air is exposed to the discharge of a powerful electric current through the air. It is a powerful oxidant and one of the most powerful disinfectants available in water treatment. We call it the ‘silver bullet’ in water treatment technology.  Essentially, water is electrified to kill off unwanted organic materials,” Moore explained.  
        “Collins Park Water Treatment Plant basin filters are being upgraded to bio-filters to be used in conjunction with the new ozone process. Biologically active filtration (BAF) is a cost-effective, multi-barrier water treatment process that provides a broad foundation for controlling taste and odors, removing contaminants, and increasing water stability. Essentially, live organisms on the surface of the filters will eat left over organic matter in the final stages of the treatment process.”
        The city has also enhanced its tools in Maumee Bay, including an advanced monitoring system of buoys and sondes (water quality montoring) instrumentation that allows the city to measure conditions in Lake Erie such as pH level, presence of blue-green algae and chlorophyll.
        According to Moore, it provides:
         Data reported every 10 minutes on the city’s website and made available to the public;
         Data that allows the city to adjust treatment methods based on source water quality.
        “It’s important to note that the sondes report water quality prior to treatment; therefore, these data are not indicative of tap water quality,” says Moore.
        Moore adds that Toledo also has enhanced chemical feed capabilities that were not available in 2014, including:
         Quadrupled potassium permanganate feed capacity at the intake crib;
         Lyse cyanobacteria, which destroys cells to release microcystin for accurate measurement;
         Quadrupled powdered activated carbon feed capacity at Low Service Pump Station to adsorb microcystin;
         Installing newly powdered activated carbon feed facilities at Collins Park Water Treatment Plant to adsorb microcystins released by any remaining bacteria;
         Increased settled sludge removal at Collins Park Water Treatment Plant to remove cyanobacteria as soon as possible in the process;
         Quadrupled chlorine feed capacity at Collins Park Water Treatment Plant, which breaks down microcystin prior to treated water entering the distribution system.



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