The memories of last year’s water crisis in and around Toledo are still fresh in the minds of most residents, and the anxiety about a repeat event in 2015 is high.
But two University of Toledo professors are hard at work at one of the critical issues surrounding last year’s three-day event: What was the economic impact of the 2014 Toledo water crisis on the local economy?
Dr. Andrew Solocha, professor in the Department of Finance in the College of Business and Innovation, along with Dr. Neil Reid, director of the UT Jack Ford Urban Affairs Center and professor of geography and planning in the College of Languages, Literature and Social Sciences, are researching that very issue, funded by a grant from the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago. They began their research in May and will have an initial impact report by the end of August.
“Lake Erie is an enormously important resource,” Solocha said. “I didn’t know anything about the science behind this, but I was really concerned about what happened here last year, and so I volunteered my time for this research. We envision a series of reports, the first one in August about the three days from last year, and then other reports over time.
“My training is in economics, data and model building, and for this research and report it is essential to have someone with experience in both business and economics because we have to interpret this data, find out what the data is saying to us; sometimes it doesn’t say anything at all. We have to go and interview people, and people can be confused or have misinformation. This is a work in progress, and we don’t yet know where all the answers are to make this complete.”
“One of the main challenges in doing this research is getting reliable data,” Reid said. “Often in the research we do, you can go to a public data source like the census and use data that has been collected in a systematic fashion. But with unanticipated one-off events like this, there are no data that are systematically collected.
“So it becomes like doing a jigsaw puzzle, but one in which you have to go out and find all the data pieces,” Reid said. “And, unfortunately, many of the pieces are either very hard to find or may not even exist. Our task here is to find as many of the pieces as possible and put them together to paint as complete a picture as we possibly can.”
“We need to be able to assess what the damages — all the damages — are. We know several sectors that were impacted by the 2014 water crisis, including hospitals, the food processing industry, restaurants, tourism and consumers, plus we will probably see an impact on housing,” Solocha said.
“But there may be impacts that we can’t see, and there could be a long-term impact. For example, people who typically go to Lake Erie beaches who have decided that now they can’t go there in the future because of the negative publicity for the region.
“Of course, there was also good news, such as the charities that came out, mobilized and helped,” he observed. “For example, the American Red Cross brought in water for people, and the National Guard distributed water and food.”
Solocha added, “The University of Toledo has been fantastic in helping us with this project, as have other organizations such as the United Way of Greater Toledo. It is absolutely critical that people know we are working on this report and that they help us.”