Friday, September 5, 2014

TFP Column (not quite): Water Water Everywhere

Sometimes despite the best of efforts, one of my writing efforts doesn't make into the Toledo Free Press.  (I know, who would believe such things, but they're true nonetheless.) There are reasons for this, and perhaps even a legendary excuse or two involved involved with such personal lapses.  All responsibility for such failures, I assure you, ultimately remain mine.

That being said, I was disappointed enough with this most recent failure to look for an alternative to burying it in a drawer (or filing it in the round cabinet), especially since I believed it to be a respectable (and occasionally clever) effort.  Having discovered that the Mayor felt unfettered by the passage of time in telling his side of the story, I decided that I could similarly disregard time and space, drag out the tired platform of a blog that has seen offerings far too infrequently, and let somebody read my side as well.  I hope you enjoy it ...

Ohio is a state uniquely blessed with the natural resource of water; on all sides bordered and in many places divided by it. As it has ever been in the world, owning the access to such resources has often meant power.

While not finding itself blessed to be on a Great Lake, the building of dams to create three large reservoirs was instead good enough to grant water power to Columbus. Control of access to that source granted real negotiating power to the state capital, power used for many years to improve Columbus's ability to expand and control its borders with its neighbors.

Toledo was not immune to the lure of 'water power' in its past, often manipulating its neighbors out of their own access through a combination of smiling persuasiveness and aggressive arm twisting that such a need was unnecessary. The few pennies more that such communities paid to serve Toledo's water power was justified, since that cost freed them of construction and maintenance of infrastructure that was solely Toledo's burden to bear.

And when only a few years ago the Glass City told interested parties planning the potential location of an inter modal facility in the region to plan where they would; but it would be the city itself, with its ability to grant or deny access to water for any such project, which would in the end decide; that was just the exercise of such power.

Like the child who for years has enjoyed showing off the sharpened blade of the family heirloom, occasionally even removing it from its oil-wrapped rags and raising it in a feigned threatening manner. It's something quite again when the threat becomes real, and the fear more than merely something to scare the children with.

Or was it?

It seems that some of the unreasoning panic over the Algae bloom and the toxin from dying microcystin that occurred may have been more of a 'Chicken Little' episode than first portrayed. As reported on by Maggie Thurber in Ohio, the levels of the toxin in the water supply were such that World Health Organization guidelines stated that the average person could consume two liters of it per day for a lifetime without any threat to health. So why the panic?  Because it was the WATER DEPARTMENT!

Now back when I first moved to Toledo, the Water Department had a reputation for being a leper colony of municipal mismanagement. Here the dead and dying politically; well-connected, but less successful city employees 'took a window seat' (were left sitting at a chair doing nothing but looking out a window) until they could retire or the world lost interest in them.

This is not to say that the department deserved no respect, but that it received little or none from the citizens, as well as the city.  It was traditionally and equally disrespected budget-wise as well.  Maintaining infrastructure isn't sexy after all, and few politicians find traction in trying to drum up votes by attempting to fix a few pipes that no one will ever see when there's a dog park or a swimming pool that can be opened.

Mostly however, Water Departments are there so that politicians can do what politicians do. Those that like to spend money to no real purpose for example, use them to do so. Hence City councilperson Lindsay Webb would like to spend $175,000 that the city doesn't have on a study it doesn't need.

The Mayor however, would like to take it further, make the city's history of 'out of sight, out of mind' maintenance where the department into a policy for consideration by the state and feds as a 'quality of life issue'. This is partly because clean drinking water is absolutely in fact a 'quality of life issue', but mostly because making it also shares the blame for its state of deterioration, and the responsibility for its long-term fix.  This could mean millions in assistance from higher levels of government to the city.

Best of all however, the pitiable cries of panic provide cover for those who've long ignored the actual problem and gives voice to those seeking 'unusual', scientifically impossible, or mindbogglingly bigoted solutions. Stop farmers from fertilizing fields is one we hear often enough, though EPA regulations have reduced much of the blamed runoff.  My personal favorite however comes from the mewing fringe, hoping to block the flow of the Great Lakes themselves to prevent upstream pollution from reaching the Glass City. (I keep waiting for a voices to break out in a stout chorus of South Park's "Blame Canada".) 

Strange to consider that pity may now have replaced what was once the fear of a source of Toledo's power and envy. One cannot help but think of the “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as it foretold of, “Water water everywhere, nor any drop to drink ...”


Roland Hansen said...

Mi Amigo Tim,
If you do not mind, I think I will link to this "Just Blowing Smoke..." entry/article on my Roland Hansen Commentary.

Timothy W Higgins said...

The least I can do with my infrequent offerings these days is to learn from the city and attempt to spread (and thereby minimize) my own contributory negligence.