As if things were not stacking up enough in the drama and complications department, the past weekend brought another bit of, well, complicated drama. Saturday morning brought news of a official Water Emergency for the city of Toledo, and everywhere in the area that gets its water from the Toledo municipal water system. This became an official State of Emergency declared by the governor of Ohio later in the day.
In simplest form, the “water advisory” said, don’t ingest the stuff in any way, it’s officially toxic poison unfit for living beings.
Monday morning updates bring better news, the official declaration that it’s all good again, complete with a scene of Toledo Mayor Michael Collins downing a fresh glass of tap water for the assembled press conference.
The episode started with a lab test that turned up “unacceptable” levels of a toxin called microcystin. I had never heard of this before. I wonder how many people knew anything about it before this.
The source of the mystery toxin is apparently vast areas of algae blooms in western Lake Erie, which happens to be where the Toledo municipal water system draws water into the system. The algae blooms are not a new phenomenon. This just happened to be the first time when, suddenly, this was turning out to be an official big problem.
Through the whole thing, an assortment of thoughts have been running through my head about the whole matter. One is the way it has been sort of faux-simplified, in the sense that officially, the course of this algae/microcystin situation has been: it’s good… it’s good… it’s good… oh my god oh my god oh my god the water is toxic poison not fit for life!… OK, it’s good, just depending on a number being below or above a set threshold, flipping a switch of go/no go.
This is a pretty good example of what I would call a symptom of simplistic binary thinking. It amazes me. People thought there was no problem, then it’s a disaster, then it’s all good again?
This problem of algae blooms is not new on Lake Erie, or planet Earth in general. I’ll leave readers to do their own web search, which should turn up a thing or two about concerns in recent years about increases in algae blooms at their effects around the mouth of the Mississippi river emptying into the Gulf.
Various factors have been cited as contributing causes to the algae bloom in Lake Erie producing this toxin that upended everything, including not just what is dumped into the water directly, but also runoff from assorted chemicals used on farms and even people’s lawns. This chemical dosing of the Earth seems to be something that most Americans disregard as trivial, nothing, just a concern found among people they dismiss as tree-hugger commie eco-whacko hippies. Then, when suddenly a problem becomes major and unavoidable, something you can’t dismiss offhand, people wig out.
It has been a little interesting to note some reactions to the whole saga from locals. I suppose it should not be surprising. I’ve noticed a bit of people barking and squawking in complaining that this problem is a case of useless local government, being so bad that they’ve failed and neglected to fix this, although it’s unclear what exactly they think the fix might be. In this stuff, there’s some vague idea that it’s a failure in management of the city water system (which feeds many areas around the actual city of Toledo), when the problem at hand isn’t about the water system.
At the same time, all this did bring some attention to the Toledo water system, with the extra twist that this is not a new subject, either, but now, suddenly some people finally notice what has been said in the news for quite a while now. The general condition of the system is anywhere from things needing work to complete wretched, just crumbling and falling apart.
The glaring stupid irony is that you can pretty much bet that among an awful lot of the people bitching and complaining that the water problems must be some sort of result of useless government mismanagement, you will probably find a lot of that crowd then bitching and complaining about their bills from the water department, going bonkers if there’s any talk of an increase in charges, when the water system problems are not about people not doing their jobs. Repair, maintenance, and renovations and improvements in large complex systems like this cost money.
It’s a larger theme, aside from this story: people who want everything, but don’t want to pay for anything. That, and what we dump everywhere, thinking it’s nothing, that stuff just magically goes away, or does nothing.
There was more, as this story played out. The news was full of the activities of people going out and gathering up bottles and jugs of water, which is especially noteworthy when you look at the phenomenon of people going out and buying bottled water, that costs ridiculous amounts of money per unit of volume, something many people seem to never really think about.
Along one of the two substantial rivers running through the area, for years, the river has been lined with yellow signs carrying a statement saying, basically, WARNING… don’t drink the water from this river, don’t go in the water, don’t eat anything from this water, for god’s sake, it’s toxic poison, man!
People seem to regard this as just normal, somehow. It’s amazing, just bizarre.
Aside from those rivers, there are also creeks and streams in the area, it’s a place where water is all over, and yet there was everyone scrambling for bottled water, National Guard units mobilized with water tankers to set up filling stations for people.
I could not get away from thoughts about how few people would even think about using any of these waterways as a source of water. People think, oh, that’s not how things work, water comes from the pipes, and if there’s a problem with that, you get water from some containers that came from… well, where do they think it all comes from? The basic thing is that they think water must come through some large system, or it’s unusable poison. There’s a lot of justification for that, in many places in America.
People regularly chatter about “infrastructure”, but a large portion of that subject, like virtually anything else lately, gets lost in reduction down to simplistic noise. In this case, “infrastructure” gets reduced down to people acting like “infrastructure” just means roads and bridges. Look at what happens. Raise the subject of infrastructure, and toss it into the political sports arena, and before you know it, it’s people yapping and arguing about whether or not to build more interstate highway projects.
I read one bit of commentary about the drama that made a statement I thought was interesting, but I don’t know for sure about the facts of the thing. It could be plausible, let’s put it this way, and if it turns out to be inaccurate, it’s important in the general idea. being right.
Toledo activist and former city council member Mike Ferner tied this crisis into the cost of war, the cost of “deeming the water safe,” for the nearly 500,000 residents in the guise of the needed upgrades to the water treatment facility would be roughly one fifth the amount local taxpayers have spent to fund the foreign wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Ferner said. That additional 225 million dollars that our Senate approved in military aid for Israel’s massacre of Palestinians last week, on top of the over 3 billion a year already earmarked, could sure come in handy dealing with the rotting infrastructure in the rust belt, too.
Again, I don’t have any other information to confirm the bit about “roughly one fifth the amount local taxpayers have spent to fund the foreign wars in Iraq and Afghanistan”, but regardless of the details, the basic idea is there, and this is very real. The insane militarism dominating things now, that has little or nothing to do with actual defense of the country, consumes all before it, while things like water systems are neglected, people don’t want to pay to repair and maintain the stuff, and then they’ll complain when it falls apart.
Just to restate this again, the problem of recent days with the Toledo water supply is not related to any water system malfunction, it’s about the water itself that feeds the system. It’s an ecological problem. It did bring the system problems into the spotlight, though.
Watching what I already mentioned about the way people scrambled to get water in containers, in an area where there is water all around the place, it just kept coming back to what I already said, and will repeat. If the manmade water processing and distribution systems are not working and feeding water through the vast networks of plumbing, and we’ve ruined the actual natural bodies of water around us, then what do people plan on doing?