Toledo mayor says city’s ‘nightmare’ proves need to protect water

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The mayor of Toledo Wednesday told a gathering of Great Lakes leaders — including Mayor Rahm Emanuel — that having to issue a ban on drinking his city’s water in August was a “nightmare among all nightmares.”

From Aug. 3rd, Mayor Collins addresses the ongoing water crisis

Mayor D. Michael Collins also warned the leaders — gathered at the Shedd Aquarium for a summit on drinking water — that Toledo’s experience should be a wakeup call.

Collins called it “our canary in the coal mine” moment. And Collins warned the other leaders: “Make a plan. All the promises in the world aren’t going to correct the problem.”

The leaders are in Chicago to discuss ways to help protect the water supply from potentially dangerous algae blooms caused in part by agricultural run-off.

Solutions included everything from increasing incentives for farmers to reduce the use of certain types of fertilizers to seeking a radical change of the American diet.

Emanuel called the drinking water ban in Toledo a game-changer in dealing with Great Lakes environmental issues.

Emanuel noted that some 40 million people depend on the Great Lakes for drinking water.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Emanuel and his fellow mayors held a news conferene on the terrace at the Shedd Aquaurium with Lake Michigan glistening in the backgrounnd.

They talked about a Toledo water crisis that underscored the need to create a “single standard for safe drinking water” in the Great Lakes region and designated laboratories to test water to see if it meets the standard.

“There wasn’t, at the moment, on designated lab to tell you what that standard was to test for what was happening. The first 48 hours — at least the way I heard it — nobody was sure and it looked like a Keystone Cop operation. It looked like you couldn’t organize a one-car parade,” Emanuel said.

“The mayor [of Toledo] was left to make decisions that none of the experts agreed upon… Being able to test for a standard that exists uniformly across all the Great Lakes, knowing where that lab is that will create and operate off that standard [is essential] because today, the standard is set by the World Health Organization from 20 years ago.”

Emanuel said it’s equally important to “engage the agricultural community” in a spirit of cooperation, instead of “shifting blame, then saying `This is your run-off.’ “We have a contribution from the metropolitan areas. They have a contribution from an agricultural basis. How do we work together to find a market-based or common sense solution where, rather than pointing fingers, we’re actually working together and pulling in the same direction,” he said.

A reporter noted that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has committed to decreasing carbon emissions by 80 percent and asked Emanuel what he was prepared to contribute along those lines.

The mayor ticked off, what he views as the environmental version of his greatest hits. They include: creating a $50 million Green Infrastructure Fund; retrofitting public and private buildings to reduce their environmental footprint; expanding Chicago’s bike-sharing program; investing in mass transit and embarking on, what he called “one of the infrastructure upgrades” in history to rebuild the city’s crumbling water and sewer system and overhaul water purification plants.

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