One month after the city of Toledo ordered its residents to stop drinking or even touching city water, Ohio lawmakers have begun addressing the crisis through a series of bills aimed at cleaning up water and better educating the public about the problem.
First, Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, announced in a press call Wednesday that he is introducing a bill that would create a grant program aimed at helping communities update the outdated sewage systems that, during hard rains, can dump sewage into the same drains that hold rain runoff.
Brown argues such systems — called combined sewage overflow systems — can pollute drinking water and replacing or updating such systems would cost an estimated $63 billion. Federal rules require municipalities to renovate the systems, but many communities can’t afford to. He said some 73 Ohio communities — including Columbus’ Jackson Pike facility and Lancaster — use such systems.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, some 850 billion gallons of untreated wastewater and storm water are released through combined sewage overflow systems each year in the United States.
Brown said that — as well as runoff from other sources — has contaminated water, and may have contributed to algal bloom outbreaks in Toledo, Grand Lake St. Mary’s in western Ohio and Buckeye Lake east of Columbus.
His bill would authorize $1.8 billion over five years for a grant program to help poor communities update the systems. It would provide a 75-25 cost share for municipalities.
Brown also joined Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, to introduce a bill aimed at determining whether drinking water is safe. Their bill would require the EPA to publish a health advisory and submit reports on what level of microcystins in drinking water is expected to be safe for human consumption.
Microcystins — the toxic part of toxic algae — spurred Toledo to enforce a ban on drinking or touching water Aug. 2, but there are currently no federal regulations setting that determine how much microsystin must occur in water before it’s unsafe. According to Brown, cities and water plant operators currently rely on the World Health Organization’s suggestion of 1 part per billion or less.
And while the EPA has been working on developing a federal limit for years, it has yet to issue one. The Brown-Portman-Kaptur bill would create an interim advisory to help set a level as EPA continues to work on a federal limit.
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