Toledo’s Relationship With Water

David Miller, June 19, 2018

To put it mildly, Toledoans have an interesting relationship with water. As a port city for Lake Erie, Toledo depends on the lake for maritime business, recreation, and as a water source. When the health of Lake Erie is in question, the entire region suffers. I would know, I was born in Toledo Hospital and lived there until I left for college in 2007.

Growing up in Toledo, I knew that our access and proximity to water was special. As a young boy, I spent many a summer Saturdays camping at my grandpa’s yacht club situated on the lake, taking boat rides with him while fishing for walleye. These are cherished memories that I’ll have forever. I knew where my tap water came from, because I spent a lot of my time on that same body of water. I had a real sense of the safety of that water, even as a youngster.

Prior to 2014, Toledoans took great pride in their drinking water. In college, I interned with Rep. Marcy Kaptur in her Washington DC office, and upon departure that summer, she gifted me a souvenir bottle of Toledo Tap Water, emblazoned with quotes from local celebrities like Jamie Farr talking about the merits of Toledo’s water. It was a sense of great pride. I still have that bottle, and cherish it still.

All of these feelings of water security and pride disappeared in 2014. We all know the story: a large quantity of toxic algae from Lake Erie got into the Toledo water supply and nobody could safely drink it. This shattered the image of the lofty Toledo tap water. People had to drive hours away to get safe water to drink. My parents, who live in South Toledo, drove up to Ann Arbor, MI to buy a few cases of bottled water because all the local stores were sold out. I was living out of state at the time, but remember waking up that morning and scrolling through social media reading the immediate stories of my Toledo friends grappling with the crisis. I called my parents and woke them up to tell them not to drink the water. They immediately leaped into action to secure water for themselves.

To this day, my parents will avoid drinking Toledo tap water. I know it’s safe, and intentionally drink it in front of them. Even this past Christmas, I poured a large glass of Toledo tap water and took a sip in front of my mom and she remarked, “I can’t believe you drink that stuff!” They subscribe to a local water company that delivers giant jugs of water which they drink out of a machine. They are not alone. They have friends who also avoid the tap water. I think they are silly, but then again, I wasn’t living in Toledo during the crisis.

Toledo water is safe. It is actually one of the best tap waters in the Midwest. Toledo has a state-of-the-art water treatment facility. But, the fear surrounding the safety of the tap water can’t be discounted. The crisis in 2014 proved that we can do more to protect our water.

We think of our society as highly advanced and sophisticated, yet a major American city found itself without safe drinking water for three days. Toledo is not alone. We’ve seen unsafe drinking water in other cities, including Flint, MI.

We need to take a step back and recognize that clean, safe, drinking water is an essential part of our lives. Without it, nothing else is important. The people of Toledo unfortunately are well aware of that fact.