Ohio’s 14th District, in the northeast corner of the State and covering Ashtabular, Lake, Geauga, eastern Cuyahoga, northern Trumbull, northern Portage and northeaster Summit Counties, faces a variety of threats to its clean water supply. As is true of the rest of the State, the 14th District, represented by House Appropriations Interior and Environment Subcommittee member Dave Joyce, battles to protect its water supply from the threat of pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, industrial chemicals, and both human and animal waste. Confronting these threats with decaying infrastructure costs Ohio communities tens of millions of dollars and is causing water bills across the State to rise dramatically.
The Columbus Dispatch recently examined water systems across Ohio and found that for all communities, the costs of maintaining, repairing and upgrading water systems are reaching into the millions of dollars. Cities like Columbus, large enough to borrow money for needed improvements, have been able to make headway, but smaller cities often don’t have that option, and are largely on their own in paying for upgrades, and the federal funds available to help are vastly inadequate. Ohio does have an abundance of fresh water, but it also has a long industrial history and a great deal of farmland; both create problems for drinking water. This summer, harmful algae nearly surrounded the State, with blooms stretching across Lake Erie and on the Ohio River, reaching Cincinnati. The utility which supplies water to three affected Ohio counties has been forced to spend roughly $7,500 a day for the past several months to test for microcystin, a toxin produced by algae, and to clean the algae from the water.
We at CWC reported on Toledo’s water crisis in 2014, when an algae toxin contaminated the city’s water supply, rendering it unsafe for nearly a half million residents for several days. Cleanup costs are approaching $60 million, and water bills are expected to increase by about 13 percent for four years to help cover those costs. As the Dispatch article pointed out, for a family of four, that could cause water bills to increase by about $30 per month by 2018.
A November 2015 report by the Greater Ohio Policy Center assessed Ohio cities’ water and sewer infrastructure needs and concluded that they have fallen far behind in making needed investments in that infrastructure. Many districts, the report noted, have had to delay addressing the challenges they face, postponing infrastructure repairs due to lack of funding. “The ongoing and growing risk of further decay of this infrastructure,” the report notes, “underscores the need to find ways to make investments in water and sewer infrastructure for the future.” The assessment estimated that the State’s water systems need $25 billion over the next 20 years for system upgrades and modernization improvements. In addition to regular maintenance, which many localities have neglected due to cost concerns, reducing the number of combined sewer overflows is critical to protecting Ohio residents’ health.
Federal aid, including State Revolving Fund (SRF) appropriations, is desperately needed to upgrade Ohio’s water infrastructure so that the contamination threats posed by the State’s industry and farmland can be combatted effectively. Congressman Joyce has a responsibility to protect the health and well-being of his constituents and that of all residents of Ohio by pushing for desperately needed federal assistance.