The tap water is once again safe to drink for the residents of Toledo, Ohio, the state’s fourth largest city, the Associated Press reports. Toxin levels in the area’s water system caused by an algae bloom in Lake Erie were declared low enough for safe human ingestion on Monday. Whether the Eukaryotes were solely to blame for the incident is not completely clear, and investigators will be inspecting Toledo’s pipes to make certain that the aging system did not contribute to the problem.
The episode does highlight, however, the fragility of the modern city, which can be crippled not merely by hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters. With many people packed into a relatively small area and dependent on bureaucracies for their very survival, it’s a miracle disruption is so infrequent.
As the situation in Ohio shows, the water supply is an especially delicate piece of the urban clockwork. Water challenges in the dusty western states are ongoing, and the threat of a terrorist attack on water sources is taken very seriously by the EPA. Toledo’s nearly three days without ready access to water would have been a greater disaster were it not for a transportation infrastructure that allowed bottled water to be efficiently distributed through government, charitable, and mercantile means. These are the same roads that kept New York City humming after Sandy, or kept countless other cities out of the Stone Age in the wake of countless other natural disasters.
That we are able to resupply cities this way—at least until they their respective storms pass—should let us breathe a little easier. But that we might need to should sober the man who is proud of the height of our spires.