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Project Clean Lake's third storage tunnel reduces flow of untreated water into Lake Erie

Project Clean Lake
Posted at 5:06 PM, Aug 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-25 19:26:10-04

CLEVELAND — This week’s weather prompted the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District to issue an advisory that the water quality at Villa Angela Beach was poor as a result of high bacteria levels. The reports can help beachgoers know what water conditions they may anticipate before visiting Cleveland’s Edgewater and Villa Angela beaches. Edgewater maintained a “good” rating Thursday.

Whenever there is a heavy rain like we typically see in the summer, there is always the possibility of untreated runoff from the city’s wastewater treatment plant being released into the lake, which can impact those readings. It’s something the ongoing Project Clean Lake has already drastically reduced.

The 25-year, $3-billion project aims to create seven massive storage tunnels stretching from two to seven miles under greater Cleveland that will hold millions of gallons of water and sewage that, in Cleveland, travel in the same pipes from our homes to the water treatment plant.

"Normally in dry weather conditions, it's fine, because all of those flows make their way to the wastewater treatment plant," said Jennifer Elting of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District. "However, when you have heavy rains the pipes just aren't big enough and the plants don't have the capacity to handle the extra flows.”

So the tunnels will allow for the combined sewer and water to be stored until after a storm when it can be pumped out and treated instead of being released into the lake or Cuyahoga River untreated.

Back in the early 70s, a good 9 billion gallons of untreated water would flow through century-old tunnels under Cleveland directly out into the lake. Over the last four decades, they’ve been able to cut that down to about 4 billion. The goal is to eventually get it down to under a half-billion.

The Doan Valley Storage Tunnel it is the third to go online, activated just last month, reducing in the process combined sewer overflows by 230 million gallons annually along Doan Brook, from Shaker Heights to Lake Erie. It is the third of the seven tunnels to be completed.

"When you take those three tunnels in combination, we're able to capture 1.5 billion gallons of combined sewer overflow from the environment on an annual basis," Elting said.

Below the west side of Cleveland construction continues on the Westerly Storage Tunnel stretching two miles under Tremont and Ohio City. When it opens in 2023 it will keep 330 million gallons of untreated water and sewage from being dumped into the Cuyahoga River each year.

The three remaining tunnels yet to be constructed include Southerly ($325M), Big Creek ($220M), and Shoreline ($201M). The Shoreline Storage Tunnel will extend from Forrest Hills Park to E. 55th/Fairlie Avenue, the three-mile tunnel will be 75 feet to 140 feet underground, and 23 feet in diameter. It will control overflows at 11 locations along Lake Erie and reduce combined sewer overflows by 370 million gallons every year. It will be complete and in operation by the end of 2025.

The $3 billion project is entirely rate-payer funded and is so far around $500 million under budget.