The following was written by Alexander Krupp, a rising sophomore at George Mason University and an intern at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Hampton Roads office. He traveled to Ohio last weekend for a family funeral.
I was in a hotel in Findlay, Ohio, this past weekend. The town is largely comprised of local businesses, many family-run. I saw on the morning news that the town and neighboring areas were in a state of emergency due to a toxic algal bloom in the water supply that the treatment plants could not handle. They said that all citizens were not to drink the water, boil it, cook with it, bathe with it, or even touch it.
There were signs in every building in Perrysburg, Ohio, on the sinks and toilets saying not to come in contact with the water. My friends and family, who live from Fostoria to Glandorf, had to wait in line for hours to buy bottled water. I was in Ohio for a funeral for a family member and was forced to leave to drive 20 minutes to the nearest store for water because the water from the fountains and faucets were not safe to drink.
Just think of all the local restaurants that could not wash their produce or cook anything with water. Or think about all the mothers who could not run a bath for their children. It's devastating to be without such an essential resource.
But what caused this catastrophe?
Around the western end of Lake Erie, the shallowest of the Great Lakes, algal blooms have become more and more frequent due to large amounts nutrient pollution from agriculture and urban runoff. But it seems that nothing had been done about this pollution, and now with the toxin microcystin, which is produced by the algae, at three times the safe level for drinking water, 500,000 Ohio residents had been forced to find alternative water sources to make it through each day.
It's now more obvious than ever that lawmakers have not been focusing enough of their attention on our environment and our public health, because Ohioans are clearly being affected directly. Even though the Mayor of Toledo just declared that the water is safe to use again, citizens are still cautious—and for good reason.
This past weekend has been a bold reminder that water quality is of vital importance to our daily lives and is not something to be taken for granted. Here in the Chesapeake region, efforts to protect our waters are clearly laid out in the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint, the federal-state plan to restore the Bay and its rivers and streams. But with the American Farm Bureau Federation and the Fertilizer Institute having recruited 21 states from across the country to support their efforts to derail Chesapeake Bay restoration, we must fight harder than ever to ensure the Blueprint is fully implemented.
I'm hopeful that this situation will prompt local governments to be strict with nutrient pollution and more mindful of warning signs in the future.