The city of Sylvania closed off its water connection to the city of Toledo early Saturday morning, protecting Sylvania’s water supply from harmful amounts of the algae-related microcystin toxin.
City Service Director Kevin Aller said that while most residents were unaware, Sylvania’s water supply was safe to drink during the Toledo-area weekend water crisis.
The city water district serves all of Sylvania and parts of Sylvania Township.
When its 5,900 account customers opened their taps after 7 a.m. Saturday, they were using only water from one of the city’s two water towers.
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“At that time [7 a.m.] the city of Toledo pulled samples at our intake, and we were told we were below the threshold,” Mr. Aller said.
He said the safe-to-drink level for microcystin recommended by the World Health Organization is below 1 part per billion.
Councilman Doug Haynam questioned why residents weren’t told the city’s water supply was safe and said Sylvania restaurants should have remained open.
“Why did we put our community through this all weekend? We knew from Saturday that our water was safe. We created all that anxiety and economic harm for what reason? I don’t get it. If water tested safe on Saturday, why did we shut down all of those businesses?” he said.
Mr. Aller explained that safety protocol calls for the system to be treated as one when it is found to be out of compliance.
“If Toledo had one bad sample then their whole system is contaminated,” he said.
He said if he had announced that Sylvania’s stored water was safe to drink, residents would have begun using the system normally, possibly depleting the storage supply.
This eventually would have caused the need to turn the valve to Toledo water back on, setting up the system to receive unsafe water from the affected city.
About 500,000 residents in Toledo and the surrounding metropolitan areas were affected by the water ban, which began about 2 a.m. Saturday. That includes about 16,000 customers in Sylvania Township, which is mainly served by Toledo water through Lucas County.
Matt Choma, Lucas County assistant sanitary engineer, said the system does not have just a single valve that would allow authorities to disconnect the residents from the township it serves.
Toledo’s water enters the city of Sylvania’s water system through a 500,000-gallon ground-level tank at Brint and Holland-Sylvania roads.
Sylvania has two water towers, one at Erie Street in Burnham Park with a 500,000-gallon capacity and the newly constructed storage tower at Fossil Park, which holds 2 million gallons of water.
Although Sylvania’s water was safe to drink, he said Toledo officials used an abundance of caution when the city issued the water ban that left thousands of Toledo-area residents scrambling — and some fighting — for water. The ban shut down township and city restaurants over the weekend, usually the busiest time for the restaurant industry.
“We reduced the flow out of the system, so Sylvania, Maumee, Perrysburg were asked to use in-storage water so we could sort out if they had good water. We assumed it was good, but we wanted to ensure it was safe. This is the only time it [an incident like this] has happened,” Donald Moline, Toledo’s public utilities commissioner, said.
Sylvania Township also spearheaded efforts to draw more than 60,000 gallons of fresh water from the lake at Olander Park. That water was treated and given out at distribution stations throughout the area over the weekend.
Local fire departments responded to a request Saturday evening from the Lucas County Emergency Center, activating an emergency plan to draw water from the spring-fed lake using pumper trucks that were parked on the boat dock. The firefighters drafted about 36,800 gallons of water on Saturday night and about 31,000 gallons Sunday, Sylvania Township Fire Chief Jeff Kowalski said.
Wauseon, Liberty Center, Elmore, Archbold, Carroll Township, Portage, Erie Township, Catawba Island Township, Damascus, and Napoleon fire departments provided tankers for the effort.
Firefighters drove the water to temporary purification sites operated by the National Guard. One was located at University of Toledo Scott Park Test Center, 2225 Nebraska Ave. The second location was at Woodward High School, 701 E. Central Ave.
Chief Kowalski said the purified water was dispatched to more than 20 distribution sites in the Toledo area and nearby Michigan.