CBA Record November-December 2021
The Fairness of Water By Cameron Davis W ith few clouds in the sky, the first weekend in August 2014 was already shaping up to be a warm
Toledo’s Mayor, Mike Collins, a former police officer, this didn’t seem right. “When you see the red and blue flashing lights behind you, is that a recommendation to pull over?” Collins quipped at a gathering of his fellow Midwestern mayors at Chi- cago’s Shedd Aquarium the next month, in September 2014. Former ChicagoMayor RahmEmanuel spoke about the Toledo drinking water incident. People often cite Emanuel’s famous quote, “Never let a crisis go to waste” (echoing Winston Churchill). “But people often forget the second part,” Emanuel said to the group of mayors. “Never let a crisis go to waste to do the big things you never thought were possible. ” Climate change is a crisis for the next several generations. Warming water incubates algae, including the toxic kind that shut down Toledo’s drinking water supply. But the risks from climate change aren’t just to water quality. They’re also to water quantity, our shorelines, and health. In short, climate change is amplifying water inequities. That is, disparities in water access.
Climate change, water, and equity are linked to a growing need for change in our metro region, country, and world. Equi- table access to adequate water quantity and quality is possible. But we have to act now, so we don’t “waste” the (climate) crisis. What is Equity? I was working at home that Saturday morning, August 2, when I got a call from the office of U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, representing the Toledo area, about the incident and a plea for help. It was almost unfathomable that with 20% of the Earth’s fresh surface water supply, the Great LakesWatershed – includ- ing its coastal communities – could find itself lacking in freshwater for drinking. How could this be possible? Like many Midwestern cities, much of Toledo had also been all but hollowed out due to fleeing industry, which left the poverty rate hover- ing at around 25%. To me, climate change, poverty, and a municipality’s inability to assure access to safe, clean water, are linked. I think of equity as making sure that clean water is readily available for healthy
one. As Midwesterners, we’re always mind- ful of our winters, so we cling to summer weekends like life rafts. So, on this August Friday, everyone was excited about the end of the work week, looking forward to ball games, barbeques, and basking in the wonderful weather. But the Saturday that followed was different. Late the night before, initial testing showed spikes in something called micro- cystin, an algal toxin, in Toledo, Ohio’s drinking water supply. State labs worked late into the night to analyze the results more closely, which confirmed the worst – and a “do not drink order” was executed. Just like that, nearly a half-million metro area residents who had tapped into Lake Erie’s massive freshwater supplies didn’t have access to clean water from their taps. The order sounded like precisely that— an order—to Toledo Mayor Michael Col- lins. The State later said, however, that the order was a recommendation. But to
22 November/December 2021
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