Government Relations


Frank J. Calzonetti, Ph.D., Vice President of Government Relations/Chief of Staff gave testimony before the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee on February 12, 2015.   (Please see the testimony below)

Chairman Hill, members of the House Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, thank you for providing us the opportunity to testify to you on a matter of grave importance to the State of Ohio. My name is Frank Calzonetti and I am the Vice President for Government Relations and Chief of Staff to the President of The University of Toledo. Joining me are Dr. Thomas Bridgeman, Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences and Dr. Hans Gottgens, Professor and Associate Chair of the UT Department of Environmental Sciences.

The University of Toledo is a state-assisted higher education institution serving approximately 20,000 students with over 85% of these students coming from the State of Ohio. With over 300 academic programs across a broad range of disciplinary areas, UT is one of a select number of universities in the nation to offer programs in arts and science disciplines, business, education, engineering, law, medicine, nursing, social services, and pharmacy. In addition, UT has its own research hospital.

UT has made strategic investments to build research strengths in areas important to our region. One area in which we stand tall nationally is our depth in water and environmental research and issues relating to the health of the Great Lakes. We have faculty expertise across our diverse campuses with specialized centers and laboratories including our Lake Erie Research Center with its research vessels, our imaging centers, our GIS and remote sensing laboratory, and our Legal Institute for the Great Lakes that provide support for research and engagement on water and Great Lakes issues. I invite each of you to visit our Lake Erie Research Center today so you can see what a valuable asset this is to our state.

So when the August, 2014 water crisis hit Toledo, UT was in an excellent position to provide expert local support to our community in explaining causes of the problem, the implications of the problem, ways to improve water treatment and testing, and ways to address the problem in the future. In fact UT has been monitoring algal blooms on Lake Erie since 2002.

UT was the only public research university directly affected by the water crisis, resulting in the closure of the campus and a rescheduling of procedures at the UT hospital. At the recommendation of UT Interim President Nagi Naganathan, I organized the UT Water Task Force within days of the crisis pulling together over 20 faculty experts from campus as well as experts from BGSU. Four days after the event we held a public forum on campus where UT and BGSU experts provided information to the public and media on the problem and answered questions on the cause of the problem, the health impacts relating to compromised drinking water, and whether the regional water supply was in jeopardy. This event drew over 250 people as well as local, state, national and international media attention.

We organized the task force in subcommittees to address important elements of the problem. These are: (1) Land Use and Water Quality; (2) Water Treatment, Infrastructure and Testing; (3) Policy, Economics, Law and Public Education; and (4) Toxicity and Specific Health Concerns. Each subcommittee prepared plans to address the water quality challenge. When Chancellor Carey announced that the Ohio Board of Regents would dedicate $2 million to the state’s research universities to tackle the problem, UT was already organized with well thought-out plans on ways to move forward. He convened a water quality committee of faculty experts from throughout Ohio to put forward proposals to begin immediately to address the problem. Indeed, of the $2 million in the Chancellor’s funds, $832,000 is dedicated to projects led by UT. While all of the Chancellor’s projects are meritorious, UT believed that additional funding was necessary for a comprehensive look at the Maumee River Watershed so we dedicated $200,000 of university funds to study this issue as well as to provide more support for medical-related projects.

UT is able to provide you with the best scientific and legal advice on almost all aspects of this problem, from the causes of the algal blooms, the migration of the algae, how algal blooms result in microcystis entering the water supply, ways to treat water, and the health effects to both healthy residents and those with compromised liver and kidney function. Our faculty members collaborate with experts at other universities in Ohio, throughout the nation, and throughout the world. But now we will just provide testimony of direct interest to your committee by inviting Dr. Tom Bridgeman and Dr. Hans Gottgens to summarize work on the algae tracking in Lake Erie and on issues relating to the Maumee River Watershed.

Chairman Hill and members of the Committee, I would now like to have Dr. Bridgeman introduce himself.

Statement of Dr. Thomas Bridgeman

Chairman Hill and members of the Committee, my name is Tom Bridgeman. I am an Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences and have been conducting research on Lake Erie’s algal blooms for over a decade and spend many days collecting samples directly from the lake. I would like to inform the Committee of work to be undertaken through Chancellor Carey’s funds on providing better monitoring and more advanced warnings of harmful algal blooms that may affect water supplies.

At present, water utilities that draw source water from Lake Erie are severely limited in their ability to adjust treatment levels quickly enough to neutralize algal toxins during Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs). One of the primary limitations is a lack of advance warning of high algae and microcystin toxin levels before they reach water intakes. Currently the only warning available is the real-time data provided by water quality sensors deployed near the Toledo water intake. Since mid-August 2014, these sensors have proved extremely useful in giving utility managers a few hours advance notice of high HAB concentrations, allowing them to adjust treatment as needed. The first major objective of this project is to extend this early-warning capacity to 12-24 hours by placing in situ sensors up to 8 miles away from intakes in areas where high toxin levels tend to develop during blooms.

The real-time notification system and additional warning time we propose will allow managers to respond more efficiently to impending pulses of high-toxin water approaching their intakes and to avoid costly overtreatment of water when it is not necessary (up to $10,000 per day). A second important limitation on water treatment utilities’ ability to deal with HABs is a lack of information on what environmental conditions cause HAB cells to produce toxins and to release toxin into the water via cells rupturing or exuding toxin – which affects the treatment response needed at the plant. Therefore the second major objective of this project is to investigate environmental variables (such as phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations, and vertical mixing) that may provide insight on conditions that promote the production and release of algal toxins.

In addition to the major objectives I just described, the state funding will allow us to build on 13 consecutive years of HAB size estimates in western Lake Erie, for modeling and long-term trend detection. We will also be able to investigate relationships between nutrient concentrations and HAB development by tracking algal nutrient concentrations and HAB biovolume in Maumee Bay. Furthermore, we will help to refine remote sensing methods for HABs by comparing algal and physical data to vessel-based radiometer lake surface measurements and data from remote sensing platforms (we have a developing collaboration with NASA, with pending commitment from NASA to support one University of Toledo graduate student on this project). We will also provide HAB and environmental data to refine and calibrate ecosystem models (in collaboration with OSU) and will be working with colleagues in the UT College of Engineering in evaluating the accuracy of ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) microcystin toxin tests for high toxin concentrations found in western Lake Erie via comparison with advanced LCMSMS (Liquid chromatography–mass spectrometry) measurements.

Given the limitation of time and budget, this project will focus on improving advance notice of HABs approaching the Cities of Toledo and Oregon water intakes. However, all HAB data will be publicized and publically available via our website. Water utility managers along the Ohio and Michigan shorelines of western Lake Erie will be contacted and invited to subscribe to bulletins and alerts. The systems created and lessons learned can be transferred to other water utilities in the future. Future projects will also incorporate particle-tracking hydrodynamic models (currently run by NOAA-Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory) with our lake data to predict and visualize the movement of HABs for the benefit of water utilities throughout the western basin of Lake Erie.

This project will operate in parallel and in collaboration with a similar project being conducted on Sandusky Bay by BGSU and Kent State University and will share data and expertise. Certain components such as work done by OSU Stone Lab and remote sensing (by Richard Becker at UT and researchers at KSU) involve both projects but must be done separately due to the geographical distances involved. HAB early-warning information generated by both projects will be presented as a unified product for the benefit of water utility managers and Ohio citizens.

The ultimate solution to the HAB problem in Ohio will be to prevent HABs by preventing algal nutrients from entering our tributaries and lakes from surrounding watersheds. However, this solution may take several years to accomplish. In the meantime, water utilities and Ohio residents must be protected from potentially toxic water supplies through a combination of advance warning of HABs approaching intakes and appropriate testing and treatment within the water plants. Presently, a variety of empirical and ecosystem models are capable of approximate predictions of annual bloom size based on springtime tributary discharge. However, our experience with Lake Erie HABS from 2011-2014 has demonstrated that for water utilities, understanding the movement and behavior of blooms on time scales of hours to days and spatial scales of a few miles is even more important than the overall size of the bloom. The results of our project will give water utility managers more time and data to make effective treatment decisions. Overall, the project results will contribute an additional safety factor to water supplies affecting >500,000 Ohio residents.

Statement of Dr. Hans Gottgens

Chairman Hill and honorable members of the committee, I appreciate the opportunity to address the committee today. My name is Hans Gottgens and I am a Professor and Associate Chair in the University of Toledo’s Department of Environmental Sciences. My background is in environmental engineering sciences with a specialization in wetlands ecology. I hold a Ph.D. degree from the University of Florida, edit an international, peer-reviewed journal on Wetlands Ecology and Management, and worked for years with farmers in the area of soil and water conservation through the Florida Department of Agriculture. Northwest Ohio and the Maumee River basin have been my home for more than 20 years.

My goal is to highlight the recent initiatives sponsored by The University of Toledo to help improve management of the Maumee River watershed, the main source of nutrients leading to the formation of harmful algal blooms (HABs) on western Lake Erie each summer. I will focus particularly on wetlands and the role they may play in a solution to these HABs. Clearly, this is a large-scale environmental problem and its solution requires a large-scale approach with a long-term focus.

In early August of 2014, nearly half a million residents of northwestern Ohio and southeastern Michigan lost access to safe drinking water for two days due to elevated levels of microcystin, a cyanobacterial toxin, in the water supply exceeding the 1 μg/L safety limit for drinking water established by the World Health Organization. This crisis refocused attention on the recurring large HABs in Lake Erie, the region’s source of drinking water. These blooms, dominated by the toxin-producing Microcystis aeruginosa, are not a new phenomenon and appear to be getting more prevalent. They are stimulated by nutrient loading, particularly in the form of dissolved phosphorus and nitrogen. In fact, the four largest HABs since the mid-1990s in the western basin of Lake Erie have occurred during the past six years.

This cyanotoxin crisis also refocused attention on activities that contribute to the nutrient loading and corrective measures. Clearly, this is not a new issue in the western Lake Erie basin nor is this unique to this region. Emphasis is generally placed on the activities of both farmers and urban residents in the basin. Less consideration is given to where these farmers farm and where these urban residents live. In the case of the Maumee River watershed, these activities occur in a region that was historically a very large wetland (the Great Black Swamp). As such, drainage is essential and downstream water quality problems, including cyanotoxins, are likely. Returning some wetlands to the Maumee River basin to help improve water quality deserves serious consideration.

Much has been published about the role wetlands play in water quality improvement. Several scientific journals devote attention to this topic. The effectiveness of wetlands to treat nutrient-rich runoff depends on the hydrology, soils, topography, nutrient loading rates and climate of the basin. Different designs may be used including in-stream vs. floodplain wetlands, constructed or natural systems, and subsurface-flow or surface flow designs. Each design, in turn, may differ in substrate quality (e.g., sand, gravel, peat), water depth and depth variation, plant community composition, inflow/outflow configuration and parameters that support ancillary objectives (e.g. mosquito control, wildlife habitat, education and aesthetics). Investigating which wetland designs have the greatest potential for leading to improved nutrient abatement in the Maumee River basin is a necessary first step.

Taking advantage of work done by Daryl Dwyer, one of my colleagues at UT, we will use experience with a new system of wetlands installed recently in Maumee Bay State Park, to assemble the best possible wetland designs for the Maumee River basin to help ameliorate cyanotoxin problems downstream. We will formulate how such wetlands should be managed and monitored to maximize long-term nutrient abatement. And, we will identify suitable treatment sites within the basin based on where land with proper access is available and where treatment would be appropriate.

Other land-use projects sponsored by UT, carried out by my colleagues in collaboration with other state universities, include updating our watershed models that address the impact of land use on water quality within the Maumee River watershed. These updates include new field observations and satellite data from Landsat 8, launched in 2013. These models need accurate spatial information on topography, soils and land use of the watershed in order to work properly. They also need accurate information about best management practices, such as crop type, tillage practice, and buffer strips so that the scenarios that are run are as accurate as possible.

We will also establish a citizen science project through the UT’s Lake Erie Center engaging teachers and students within the Maumee River watershed. Through teacher training sessions, teachers will learn how to engage their students to take water quality observations, use geospatial technologies to visualize the data, analyze water quality data, present their results through an inquiry-based research project, and share data with other schools to investigate the sources of nutrients within the Maumee River watershed. This program will be run in conjunction with our participation in the Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment (GLOBE) program, a worldwide, hands-on school-based science and education program.

In summary, this is clearly a large-scale environmental problem. Its solution requires a large-scale, watershed approach that addresses the sources of the problem, identifies the best ecological solutions, and helps educate the next generation. This includes bringing back some of the wetlands that existed in the basin historically. I thank the committee for allowing me time to represent The University of Toledo.

UT designated as Innovation and Economic Prosperity University

The University of Toledo is one of 16 public institutions in the nation recognized by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities (APLU) for strong commitment to economic engagement.

The designation as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University acknowledges schools working with public and private sector partners in their states and regions to support economic development through a variety of activities, including innovation and entrepreneurship, technology transfer, talent and work force development, and community development. 

“The health and viability of Toledo and the region are inextricably linked to The University of Toledo,” UT President Lloyd Jacobs said. “UT is proud to be a good community partner to support the growth and prosperity of Toledo and northwest Ohio.”

“The APLU Innovation and Economic Prosperity designation and awards program has enabled universities to shine a spotlight on the work they’re doing, both internally on their campuses and externally with their communities, to promote economic engagement — and to demonstrate more clearly with government and the private sector the public benefit of universities,” said Douglas Banks, associate vice president for economic development at UMass and co-chair of the Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities Designation and Awards Program.

“Unlike a more traditional competition, this process led the universities to work together and learn from one another — sharing tools, tips and techniques for promoting strengths and tackling areas of improvement. A learning community was created that has led to a stronger grasp of why university economic engagement matters.”

In addition to UT, the institutions in the inaugural class of Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities are Boise State University, California State University at Fresno, Northern Illinois University, Ohio State University, State University of New York, University of Central Florida, University of Cincinnati, University of Georgia, University of Idaho, University of Memphis, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri, University of Oklahoma and Washington State University.

Applicants for the new Innovation and Economic Prosperity University designation conducted a self-study developed by the APLU’s Commission on Innovation, Competitiveness and Economic Prosperity and solicited input from external stakeholders. The applications were scored by a panel of reviewers representing other universities and also national partners. Scoring was based on a range of criteria emphasizing universities’ development of their economic engagement enterprise, their planning efforts around economic engagement, strategic communications around these efforts, and participation in encouraging economic engagement among peer institutions.

Among UT’s positive contributions noted were the commitment of the president to economic development in the region, local talent development, and its technology transfer and commercialization program.

The designation reflects the University’s broad contributions to the regional economy and particularly the leadership shown by UT in working with community partners in developing a shared vision to move the region forward as a vibrant innovation-based community. The merger of UT with the former Medical University of Ohio, the growth of research programs, the technology transfer contributions of its research centers, the faculty work on community challenges, and its arts and humanities contributions have made the institution a stronger force to contribute to positive economic change in the region.

Dr. Frank Calzonetti, UT vice president for government relations, noted the participation of community leaders in the preparation of the documentation for APLU that led to this designation.

“In preparing our submission, we are very grateful to the many local government and community leaders who gave us their time to provide candid comments on how UT contributes to regional innovation and prosperity and ways we can work together for a more prosperous community,” Calzonetti said.

“We’re helping to provide tools to universities to help them become even more economically engaged with their communities, which is a core value of public institutions,” APLU President Peter McPherson said. “Universities are economic engines that not only directly employ people, but also generate research-based innovation and technical expertise that allow businesses to start up, grow and thrive. This designation recognizes universities that are really stepping up to strengthen their local economy.”

Last Updated: 6/26/15