Regional Water Discussion
–by Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough
PUBLICATION DATE: 02.17.17
You may have been reading or hearing about the regional water system discussions underway. Let me give you an update from the city of Sylvania’s perspective.
Fresh water is and should continue to be a great asset for northwest Ohio. While other regions of the country are parched and short of water, our region has access to vast amounts of fresh water at comparatively low cost. This water should be a great asset for economic development, but unfortunately, it is muddled in politics, monopolies and distorted pricing contracts. Add in the 2014 water crisis when 500,000 residents were forced onto bottled water and businesses had to close due to algae contamination, and water is not the regional asset it should be.
To address the safety issue, Toledo has started a $500 million safety, redundancy and modernization program at its Collins Park water plant as mandated by the Ohio EPA. The 10 suburban contract customers will end up paying for about half of those improvements if they remain customers of the Toledo water system.
The problem is that Toledo is not currently offering those 10 customers any real governance or ownership participation in their water plant in return for their large investment. As a result, most of the suburbs are reviewing other water delivery options when their customer contracts expire in the mid-2020s. Waterville is already leaving the Toledo system and joining with Bowling Green. Perrysburg and Maumee are looking at joining with northern Wood County. And as you know, Sylvania has been studying construction of a water plant for decades, on its own or possibly with Monroe County. Oregon already has its own water system and has for many years.
The most cost efficient option for all of the contract customers is to stay with and work with the Toledo system. Building new, separate systems will cost much more in the short term, but at least we will have something to show for our investment in 20 or 30 years. And yes, we would eventually have lower water prices in 20 or 30 years than staying with Toledo under the current Toledo water monopoly, just as we have had by participating in the Lucas County sanitary sewer system.
What I am hoping for is that Toledo will recognize the need to eventually share some governance and ownership of the Collins Park treatment plant in a fair manner so that all participants can benefit. This could be accomplished contractually or by establishing an ORC 6119 utility. Either way, the 10 suburban customers are asking for a return on their investment of millions of dollars in the Collins Park water plant improvements. Without that investment from the suburbs, water rates inside Toledo will at least triple.
Hopefully, regional water cooperation will be the outcome of the current discussions. Otherwise, the region could end up with several competing water plants and higher prices for everyone. Many challenges lie ahead, but at least all parties are at the table and participating in the talks. Although the outcome is still unsure, we are further along toward the real cooperation needed than ever before.
The Collins Park water plant opened in 1941 and cost $10,000,000 to construct, half paid by the city of Toledo and half by a federal grant.
The interior of the plant is being restored and modernized.