New tunnel project will begin protecting Lake Erie from untreated discharges

Posted at 8:04 AM, Jul 25, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-25 08:17:58-04

The release of just under a million gallons of sewage into Lake Erie in Western New York after a heavy rainfall earlier this week caught the attention of many, but in reality, the number is small in comparison to the roughly 4.5 billion that flows into Lake Erie from Cleveland each year. That number will soon be coming down.

That's because of Project Clean Lake, a $3 billion effort that calls for the construction of seven underground tunnels, some three to five miles in length that will be used to store storm water and sewage during a heavy rain event until it can be pumped out, cleaned and released into the lake.

During the 1970's an estimated nine billion gallons of untreated water would flow into Lake Erie during heavy rains and even though they were able to reduce that to 4.5 billion gallons, Cleveland was still found to violate the Federal Clean Water Act. Cleveland was mandated to come up with a solution.  Project Clean Lake will eventually take that to under a half-billion gallons a year.

This month the 3-mile long Euclid Creek tunnel project that started construction in 2011 officially came online.

"It began accepting flows on July 13th, so we've had a couple of smallish rain events that have gone through but we've been able to capture all the flows," said Jennifer Elting of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.

In the fall of last year, construction began on the Doan Valley tunnel project under University Circle.

"This project will focus mainly on overflow points that currently overflow into Doan Brook; there's about 11 of them right now," Elting said. "So we'll be able to have a much healthier, much cleaner Doan Brook, capture that combined sewage and eventually send it to the Easterly Wastewater Treatment Plant for full treatment."

The ground was broken in May on the Westerly Tunnel, which will be the first of the tunnels to be dug on the city's west side.

"So all said Project Clean Lake has seven tunnels, we have either completed construction or are under construction for four of those seven," Elting said.

The entire $3 billion price tag has been ratepayer-funded, which is why Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District customers have seen a slow creep in their bills of around ten percent a year. The good news is the district has been able to put into place cost savings that have the project around a half billion dollars under budget.