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Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District Clean Water Act Settlement

(Washington, DC - December 22, 2010) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Justice Department announced today a comprehensive Clean Water Act settlement with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District that will address the flow of untreated sewage into Cleveland area waterways and Lake Erie. The settlement will safeguard water quality and protect human health by capturing and treating more than 98 percent of wet weather flows entering the combined sewer system, which services the city of Cleveland and 59 adjoining communities.

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Overview of Company

The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) provides sewage treatment and wastewater services to Cleveland, Ohio and surrounding communities.

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The Complaint alleges violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) in the form of discharges of untreated sewage from NEORSD's sewage collection system, including combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) bypasses, to waters of the United States. NEORSD discharges nearly 5 billion gallons of untreated sewage approximately 3,000 to 4,000 times each year from 126 permitted outfalls into Lake Erie and nearby rivers. Many of these overflows violate water quality standards and other provisions of NEORSD's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, as well as Sections 301 and 402 of the CWA. NEORSD also violates EPA's operational controls applicable to CSOs, otherwise known as the "Nine Minimum Controls."

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Injunctive Relief

NEORSD estimates that the injunctive relief will cost approximately $3 billion. The settlement requires completion of the construction and full implementation of all remedial and control measures by 2035.

Implementation of the CSO control measures will, when combined with existing upgraded controls and work already underway, reduce CSO discharges to approximately 537 million gallons in a typical year, resulting in capture for treatment of over 98 percent of total wet weather flows.

The settlement requires NEORSD to build seven tunnels to store combined sewage until the collection systems and WWTPs can accommodate the flow. In addition to the large tunnel projects, NEORSD will construct a number of storage tanks, upgrade several pump stations, regulators, and relief sewers, and separate sections of its sewer system.

The settlement also requires NEORSD to expand all three of its WWTPs, and construct or upgrade wet weather treatment facilities associated with the plants.

Green Infrastructure

  • The settlement requires NEORSD to use green infrastructure to capture 44 million gallons of CSO discharge in a typical year beyond the CSO reductions that must be met by building gray infrastructure (i.e., storage tunnels).
  • NEORSD has agreed to spend at least $42 million to achieve the 44 million gallon reduction, but if the $42 million investment results in CSO reduction beyond the 44 million gallons, NEORSD can request a reduction in its gray infrastructure requirements equal to the extra CSO reduction it achieves by building green infrastructure.
  • NEORSD can also apply to build additional green infrastructure projects (beyond the $42 million requirement) in exchange for additional reductions of size in the gray infrastructure.
  • NEORSD must prove through demonstration projects, modeling, projections, and otherwise that the green infrastructure will capture sufficient stormwater to achieve the same timing and CSO activation criteria originally required of the gray infrastructure.

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Pollutant Reductions

When the CSO control measures required by the settlement are implemented, NEORSD will eliminate or capture and treat nearly 5 billion gallons of the current CSO discharge. Pollutant reductions include the following:

  • Total suspended solids (TSS) - 15,302,482 pounds per year
  • Biological oxygen demand (BOD) - 4,756,177 pounds per year
  • Total nitrogen - 372,222 pounds per year

These reductions will substantially reduce releases of microbial pathogens, suspended solids, toxics, and nutrients.

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Health and Environmental Effects

The above-mentioned reductions will substantially reduce releases of the following pollutants:

  • Microbial pathogens
  • Toxics
  • Nutrients
  • Total Suspended Solids (TSS) - TSS indicates the measure of suspended solids in wastewater, effluent or water bodies. High levels of TSS in a water body can diminish the amount of light that penetrates the water column and reduce photosynthesis and the production of oxygen.
  • Biological oxygen demand (BOD) - BOD is an indirect measure of the biologically degradable material present in organic wastes. High BOD means there is an abundance of biologically degradable material that will consume oxygen from the water during the degradation process. It may take away oxygen that is needed for aquatic organisms to survive.

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Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs)

NEORSD will perform a federal supplemental environmental project (SEP) valued at $1 million to operate a household hazardous waste collection center on a monthly basis.

The center will provide local communities within Cuyahoga County with a permanent location to drop off household hazardous waste, and will allow for increased frequency of the collection.

NEORSD conservatively expects that the increased frequency will result in the collection and disposal of one million pounds of hazardous waste each year. The collection of the household hazardous waste will prevent the improper disposal of these materials in storm drains, roadsides, landfills, storm sewers, or other locations.

Further, the SEP will benefit NEORSD's entire service area by reducing the improper disposal of motor oil, oil-based paints, pesticides, mercury, batteries, and other hazardous material.

For more information on Supplemental Environmental Projects, please visit EPA's SEP page.

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Civil Penalty

NEORSD will pay a civil penalty totaling $1.2 million with the United States receiving $600,000 and the State of Ohio receiving $600,000.

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State Partner

The state of Ohio has joined EPA as a Plaintiff in this settlement.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, 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. Information on submitting comment is available at the Department of Justice website.

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For more information, contact:

Andrew Cherry
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW (2243A)
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-2589
Andrew Cherry (cherry.andrew@epa.gov)

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