Northeast Ohio regional sewer plan approved

August 2011, Vol. 66 No. 8
A view of Lake Erie from Cleveland, OH. Image: Flickr user aechampati.

In an effort to clean up Lake Erie that began with the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972, U.S. District Court Judge Donald C. Nugent has approved a 25-year regional sewer district plan to reduce the amount of untreated waste that is dumped into local waterways, usually during flooding.

The judge's approval allows the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District to move forward on a $3 billion deal worked out with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Ohio Attorney General's office which promises to reduce discharges of untreated waste from the current level of about 4.5 billion gallons a year to under 500,000 gallons annually by 2036.

The consent decree signed by the judge requires the district to pay a total of $1.2 million within 30 days to the U.S. and Ohio EPAs for past violations of clean water regulations.

The sewer district's board approved a five-year rate hike, the bulk of which will go to pay for improvements required under the plan. The increases, which average about 13 percent a year, begin in January and continue through 2016.

The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District serves Cleveland and 61 neighboring communities. Nearly one-quarter of its sewers are combined and overflows from them spill out from the system's 126 outfalls, some built as early as 1876, which are located in a number of communities.

The Northeast Ohio Regional District is planning to build seven massive tunnels designed to help stop storm water and sewage from getting into Lake Erie, but the court is requiring that part of the solution come from "green" infrastructure.

Green solutions use plant and soil systems, permeable pavement, green roofs and cisterns, and bioretention wetland areas to capture, store and filter storm water before it reaches the combined sewer system.