OHIO: Cleveland Suburbs Must End Sewer Overflows to Lake Erie

waterfall Black River

ELYRIA, Ohio, November 10, 2022 (ENS) – The city of Elyria, a suburb of Cleveland, Wednesday agreed to complete a series of capital projects to eliminate discharges of untreated sewage from its sewer system into the Black River, 10 miles upstream from Lake Erie. The lake provides drinking water for at least 11 million people.

Earlier this month, another Cleveland suburb, the city of Lakewood with a population of 50,000, made a similar agreement to settle similar sewage overflow issues into the Rocky River, also affecting Lake Erie. 

The court-monitored agreements, known as consent decrees, were signed by the cities, the United States and the State of Ohio.

The complaint against Elyria by federal and state governments alleges that the city’s sanitary sewers overflowed on more than 1,100 occasions since 2011, resulting in discharges of untreated sewage into the Black River or a tributary of the river.

The complaint also alleges that Elyria failed to comply with a previous court order to stop these illegal discharges.

Under the agreement, Elyria is expected to spend nearly $250 million to improve its sewer system. The city will pay a civil penalty of $100,000 to the United States and pay $100,000 to Ohio’s Surface Water Improvement Fund.

Residential neighborhood in Elyria, Ohio, 2022, (Photo courtesy Zillow)

The projects that Elyria has agreed to implement will increase the amount of wastewater that gets treatment and prevent overflows from sanitary and combined sewer outfalls when the system becomes overloaded.

Under the consent decree, Elyria will construct various projects within its sewer system to be completed by December 31, 2044. The most environmentally-significant of them must be finished within the first 15 years. This includes completion of the city’s East Side Relief Sewer, increasing capacity at Elyria’s wastewater treatment plant, adding processes to mitigate the harm from any bypasses around the wastewater treatment plant, and 12 other projects that will control waste overflows and the flow of non-wastewater into the sewer system.

“The Clean Water Act requires adequate infrastructure to limit discharges of untreated sewage,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “These settlements require meaningful investments that will improve the health of the Black River and Lake Erie.”

A tributary of Lake Erie, about 12 miles long in northern Ohio, the Black River drains an area of 470 square miles. Elyria’s Cascade Park is located where the main stem of the Black River begins at the confluence of the East and West branches. Just before converging to form the Black River, each branch forms a steep waterfall. Bluebirds, once common along this river, are being encouraged to return.

Via Lake Erie, the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, the Black River is part of the watershed of the great St. Lawrence River separating the United States from Canada, which flows to the Atlantic Ocean.

“The City of Elyria’s infrastructure investment will not only reduce untreated sewage from entering the Black River, but also improve water quality for residents,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “EPA and the State of Ohio worked with the City of Elyria to develop a comprehensive solution to protect water quality.”

Elyria will submit semi-annual progress reports to the United States and the State of Ohio until all work has been completed.

Under a separate agreement signed November 1, the suburb of Lakewood must complete construction of a high-rate treatment system that will treat combined sewer overflows and build two large storage basins that will hold millions of gallons of wastewater until it can be sent to the wastewater treatment plant. Lakewood will spend about $85 million to improve its sewer system and will pay a civil penalty of $100,000, split evenly between the United States and Ohio.

The proposed agreements are subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval after publication in the Federal Register. More information about this settlement can be found here.

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. The consent decree will be available for viewing here.

Featured image: East Falls of the Black River in Elyria, Ohio. Undated (Photo courtesy City of Elyria)

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