After spending the weekend under a state of emergency, nearly half a million residents of the Toledo, Ohio, area were able to safely drink their tap water again on Monday morning. Toledo Mayor Michael Collins said tests by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Ohio EPA ruled that contamination in Lake Erie no longer posed a threat.
Amounts of microcystin, a toxin that is usually the product of algae blooms, reached dangerous levels over the weekend. When consumed, it can cause diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness and even liver damage.
After the state of emergency was declared, local stores quickly ran out of bottled water. Businesses were forced to close. Distribution centers stocked with truckloads of water from across the state sprang up at high schools and fire departments.
Still, the distribution centers could provide only so much help. Each family was limited to one case of water a day.
Warnings also came in 2013, with a U.S.-Canadian commission calling on farmers to reduce phosphorus applications, since algae feed off phosphorus in fertilizer runoff.
As the shallowest of the five Great Lakes, Erie is particularly susceptible to algae blooms. A record bloom occurred in 2011, and less than a year ago, toxic algae forced 2,000 Ohio residents to go without water.
The algae blooms are just one of many long-standing problems facing Erie, such as urban runoff and invasive species — all growing concerns for the Great Lakes, a major water source shared by the U.S. and Canada.
An estimated 84 percent of North America’s surface freshwater comes from the lakes. They span 750 miles east to west and provide water for consumption, power and transportation. Over 30 million people live in the Great Lakes basin and are again asking what can be done to safeguard the water that their lives and livelihoods depend on.
How did this happen?
Why did this happen now?
What have we learned? Is there a way to fix the problem for good?
We consulted a panel of experts for the Inside Story.