You are the expert in your neighborhood

Lake Erie algae bloom

The Lake Erie algal blooms and temporary shutdown on the Toledo Water Treatment Plant got everyone’s attention.

Shock and concern turned to finding the source or sources, which inevitably led to finger-pointing.

This problem didn’t form overnight and it won’t be solved that quickly either, but we need to start having constructive conversations and direct our efforts toward solutions.

Make a difference

You might feel like the problem is too big for you to make a difference, but there’s something that everyone can do.

Polluted discharges to creeks, ditches and storm sewers — that aren’t made up completely of stormwater — are called illicit discharges. Some county and township folks that have to deal with stormwater permits may have heard of this term, but most of us haven’t.

These discharges don’t get treated before they hit the stream, which makes them illicit — bad.

Illicit discharges can come from failing or illegal septic systems, laundry or floor drain discharges, silage leachate, milkhouse waste, straight dumping of cleaning or automotive fluids to catch basins, dumpsters draining to catch basins, etc.

Basically, anything that is not completely stormwater or another clean water source like a footer drain or a spring.

This is where you come in — you are the expert in your neighborhood. You walk your dog on the same roads, you drive your car down the same routes. No one knows your area better than you. You will be the first to see or smell something out of the ordinary.

So you say, “how do I know if a discharge is illegal or illicit?” Does it have a color to it? Odor? Floatables? Are there dead fish or animals nearby? Is there a discharge occurring after a period of three or more days of dry weather?

If you notice any of these signs, it could be an illicit discharge.

What to do

If you see a discharge with any of these signs contact your county health department, soil and water conservation district office or emergency management agency.

They can track the discharge to its source and your call will be anonymous.

These county entities cannot be everywhere, so they rely on people like you — to be their eyes and ears out in the county.

If there is one thing we can agree on about the algae problem is that it is multi-faceted. There is not one source, but many.

And there is not one solution, but many people working together doing their part no matter how small.

I have always felt that we have the most influence with those who we are near to, and in the area that we live closest to.

Let us all do our part, in our sphere of influence, for cleaner water.


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Rob has worked as the Water Management Engineer at Wayne Soil & Water Conservation District for 11 years. He is responsible for administrating the Wayne County Storm Water Management Regulations. After graduation from Ohio University and prior to working at Wayne SWCD he designed water and wastewater treatment plants in North Central Ohio. Rob can be reached at (330) 263-5376 or via e-mail at



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