APNewsBreak: Ohio making more money available next year for upgrading water treatment plants

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Ohio will make more money available next year for cities planning to fix their drinking water and wastewater treatment plants, continuing a program rolled out nearly a year ago after toxins from Lake Erie contaminated Toledo's water supply.

The state's Environmental Protection Agency will offer another $150 million in no-interest loans for water-related upgrades, director Craig Butler said Friday.

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Requests for money through the loan program have exceeded what was available this year, he said.

So far, almost half of this year's money has been loaned out, while other requests are being processed. Mike Baker, chief of the EPA's drinking water and ground water division, said cities along Lake Erie where the threat of algae has been ongoing were farther along in their planning and among the first to get their projects moving.

Toledo is among the cities that already have used the loans to upgrade its drinking water plant. The water warning there early last August left 400,000 people in northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan without safe tap water for two days.

The loans can be used by communities statewide, but those in the Lake Erie watershed are a priority.

The state also will increase funding — from $1 million to $5 million next year — for communities to fix failing septic systems and stopping sewage from seeping into waterways, Butler said while touring the drinking water treatment plant in Put-in-Bay.

The resort town in western Lake Erie is considering upgrading its plant to deal with the growing threat of toxins from the lake water it uses to supply much of South Bass Island.

The plant slows down its drinking water treatment process when algae blooms are near the island to allow more time to filter the water, said David DeZeeuw, the village's water superintendent. "We can take out anything we've seen in the lake," he said.

The problem, he said, is "there's no backup for us."

He wants to put in a new $200,000 ozone filtration system by next year that would give the water plant another layer of protection if the toxins intensify. A new system also would allow the plant to produce more water during the summer months when tourists pour into the island, he said.

The algae bloom in the lake this year has circled the island and is expected to grow over the next month. It's already larger than last year's bloom and has strengthened this past week in the western end of Lake Erie near the Ohio and Michigan shorelines, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors the algae.

Algae blooms — linked to phosphorus from farm fertilizers, livestock manure and sewage treatment plants — typically peak from the middle of August through the end of September.

They turn the waters into a shade of green that looks like pea soup and also have been blamed for contributing to oxygen-deprived dead zones where fish can't survive.