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Progress, possible tweaks, and new technology ahead for Project Clean Lake

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Posted at 6:16 AM, Aug 07, 2023

CLEVELAND — As the Cuyahoga River runs long, its history with pollution runs deeper. Parts of the river, like Walworth Run, still suffer from an unhealthy amount of sewage.

“That’s discharging 80 times a year, 300 million gallons of combined sewage going out into the Cuyahoga River,” said Jeannie Smith, Director of Administration and External Affairs with the Northeast Ohio Sewer District.

Smith said Walworth Run will start seeing results from part of the $3 billion infrastructure project (Project Clean Lake) which started in 2011. The new infrastructure will minimize 300 million gallons of sewage overflow to three million gallons once a year starting at the end of 2023.

“It’s certainly very intensive and certainly very expensive, but also very necessary,” Smith said.

Despite decades worth of reconstruction already completed, Lake Erie continues to suffer from sewage overflow during heavy rain spells. It has happened twice already in July and Edgewater Beach had to close due to high levels of bacteria. Smith said the sewer district is looking at modifying sensors to fix the issue.

“Maybe won't trigger an overflow event and rather will redirect to the plant so we are looking at how we modify that pipe, so we are minimizing the amount of overflows that are happening over the course of a year,” said Smith.

The Cleveland Water Alliance is also working on new technology to alert the sewer district and metro parks of potential bacteria-filled waters from overflows. Cleveland Water Alliance Communication Manager, Samantha Marin, said it usually takes up to six hours to get that information.

“When there’s bacteria in the water, they have to go out and physically collect samples and take it back to a lab and analysis, then alert the public for any public safety concerns,” said Martin. “Which six hours may not seem like a long time, but if it’s something like public health concern, that can be a big deal."

The new technology would instantaneously send data back to officials.

“We have some promising leads and our partners at the sewer district are eager to pivot something like that,” Martin said.

While progress is being made, Smith said there's still a significant need in the region.

“We have billions of dollars of work that has to be done and we have to really invest in our sewer and water infrastructure because it is our most precious resource,” Smith said.

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