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In-Depth: Northeast Ohio water main breaks, how will Cleveland Water keep pace?

N.E. Ohio water main breaks, how will CLE water keep pace?
N.E. Ohio water main breaks, how will CLE water keep pace?
Posted at 11:28 PM, Jul 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-13 12:26:54-04

CLEVELAND — Business owner Sam Awad and some Cleveland city leaders are wondering how the Cleveland Division of Water will keep pace with water main breaks that have hit dozens of the more than 70 communities served by the Northeast Ohio utility.

Awad said he believes his business of more than 35 years has been victimized by growing Cleveland water main infrastructure issues. Awad said his Sam's Food Mart at East 66th and St. Clair is now prone to constant basement flooding ever since a February 2019 water main break flooded his basement and caused extensive damage to his building foundation.

Awad said the City of Cleveland discovered even more water main break damage a few months ago when it tried to install and new sidewalk outside his store. He said last week he was even given a citation from building and housing inspectors requiring him to repair a foundation he believes was damaged by the water main break. Awad said so far, the Cleveland Division of Water is not helping him with the situation.

“It’s a beautiful thing, I love this neighborhood, I love dealing with the public," Awad said. “But this is what happened, two-and-a-half years ago in February we had a water main break and it flooded my basement with dirt and water, it was up to four, five feet up. Then the city pulled up the handicapped sidewalk and then the saw that they have no dirt here, they have a hole right there.”

"After the water main break they never attach anything, the water is coming from East 67, it’s coming from St. Clair, all the water is pouring into my basement,” Awad said. “Then the city cites me on Friday, they told me I have a short period of time to fix my foundation. How am I going to fix the foundation when we don’t even know what’s going on under this foundation? That is not my problem, that has nothing to do with me.”

News 5 contacted Awad's council member and Mayoral candidate Basheer Jones about the situation. Jones said he is also waiting for a response from the Cleveland Division of Water and said he has concerns that more funding is need to help deal with water main breaks that have hit more than a dozen communities thus far in 2021.

“I have reached out to Cleveland Water about the situation at Sam's Food Mart," Jones said. "I’ve sent emails, I’ve reached out, I’ve made phone calls. I’m thankful that you brought it to our attention, sometimes the media has to get involved. So it’s not just the infrastructure that is crumbling an old, but it’s also our city services and our process and procedures.”

The Cleveland Division of Water quickly responded to our story and pledged to investigate the ongoing problems at Sam's Food Mart and said, "Cleveland Water responded to approximately 1500 water main breaks in 2019. There were 2 breaks that occurred across the street from 6632 St. Clair Ave and they were properly addressed. Any concerns customers have regarding the impact a water main break has on their property should contact The City of Cleveland Law Department to submit a claim."

The utility directed News 5 to its continuing water infrastructure replacement plan on its website, a plan it said is set to make $700M in capitol investments over the next 10-years.

The Cleveland Division of Water reported:

Cleveland Water has awarded over $6 million for water main replacement projects to eight suburban service communities. These awards are part of our $26 million annual capital investment in buried infrastructure.

Twice annually, in April and September, Cleveland Water awards funding for water main projects in direct service suburban cities through the Suburban Water Main Renewal Program (SWMRP). The SWMRP provides suburban communities with a mechanism to have their water mains replaced at no direct cost to them.

In 2007, Cleveland Water partnered with the Suburban Water Council of Governments – the advisory body representing the suburbs Cleveland provides water to – to launch the SWMRP. The intent of the program is to renew and replace water infrastructure in direct service suburbs in order to reduce water loss, lower maintenance costs, and provide enhanced customer service. To date, over $170 million has been invested in over 720,000 feet of water throughout the 37 participating communities.

Ward 8 Cleveland Councilman Michael Polensek praised the efforts of Cleveland Water Commissioner Alex Margevicius, but said without significant federal funding help it will be difficult to keep pace with replacing Cleveland's aging water system.

“You have to have adequate staffing, you have to have the proper equipment, and you’ve got to be able to respond quickly, especially on a large water main break,” Polensek said. “The system cannot take it, so you’ve got to rebuild the system."

“This business owner not alone in having his foundation undermined or his basement flooded, or his business operation effected. So that’s why we have to be proactive,” Polensek said.