Infrastructure is everywhere. How we serve is about making our systems, relationships, and futures better together.

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United for Infrastructure 2020 September 14–21 is a week of events focusing attention on the critical role of infrastructure in Americans’ daily lives. From roads and bridges to airports and plumbing, constructed systems keep our country functioning, and their future relies on proper maintenance, strategy, and investment as reflected in this year’s theme #RebuildBetter.

This year, as we raise awareness of our own opportunities to “rebuild better,” we focus on three key areas:

Rebuild systems better.

Ten years into our Project Clean Lake combined sewer control efforts, we have already reduced annual CSOs by 1 billion gallons. System improvements and green infrastructure are improving water quality with each year, but we also understand there are significant obstacles ahead, including legacy system challenges and funding. …

Samples from our treatment plants among other Ohio utilities’ being analyzed for potential to track future COVID outbreaks

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Beginning in May, we explored a potential partnership with the US Environmental Protection Agency to provide influent samples from our treatment plants as part of a COVID-19 pilot study.

That partnership is now a reality.

A partnership of EPA, Ohio EPA, Ohio Department of Health, and the Ohio Water Resource Center are monitoring utilities’ influent samples — including ours — to study viral genetic material in wastewater and its potential to serve as an indicator of emerging COVID-19 in communities.

A few important related notes:

  • This study is not looking at viability or transmission of COVID-19 in wastewater.
  • The weekly plant influent sample collection is already part of our existing protocols. …

15,000-foot Dugway Storage Tunnel completion is latest Project Clean Lake milestone

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A final adjusting change order on the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s Dugway Storage Tunnel June 18 closed the project contract more than $4.6 million under budget, a result of outstanding management and a sign of more Lake Erie water quality improvements to come.

The Dugway Storage Tunnel, originally a $153 million project, is the second in a series of seven storage tunnels constructed as a part of Project Clean Lake, the Sewer District’s 25-year, $3 billion program to drastically reduce the volume of combined sewer overflow entering local waterways during heavy rain events.

The DST is the third tunnel overall; prior to Project Clean Lake, the Sewer District constructed the Mill Creek Tunnel located in the Southerly Wastewater Treatment Center service area. …

Construction obligations, possible revenue loss expected to impact customers

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Pieces of Doan Valley Tunnel’s concrete lining are placed on the segment car to be transported to the advancing tunnel boring machine.

In a letter to federal congressional leaders, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District requested the inclusion of sewer and stormwater infrastructure in the next round of COVID stimulus funding.

The funding would allow clean water agencies, who provide critical public health and environmental services, to fill operations revenue losses and ensure continued delivery of services while meeting ongoing regulatory requirements.

Nationwide, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies estimates that public clean water agencies will face a $16.8 billion loss of revenue as a result of the pandemic. …

Earth Day turns 50, so what?

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Earth Day in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland State University, 1970. Details.

Last year marked a unique five-decade anniversary as we remembered the last fire that burned on the Cuyahoga River, sparking national attention and an environmental movement.

One year later, out of the haze emerged the first Earth Day.

This 2020 year has a haze of its own that makes celebrations odd and the passage of time harder to process. But this fiftieth Earth Day is no less significant than the crooked river’s comeback. We are proud of the progress and we remain committed to the cause.

There is no disconnecting the 1969 Cuyahoga River fire and the 1970 Earth Day. As awareness was heightened and more than 200 million Americans demonstrated in Earth Day events across the country, the Environmental Protection Agency was established that year. And while we the regional utility to manage clean water in Cleveland were not created until 1972, the spotlight continued to shine on our response to a river on the brink of collapse. …

Our services continue around the clock. Here’s how we’re meeting the challenge.

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Westerly Wastewater Treatment Plant, Cleveland, Ohio. Photo courtesy Nick Bucurel.

The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District remains committed to protecting the environment and announces the following measures to ensure core services and water quality are maintained. The agency’s commitment to customers and the environment will endure the COVID-19 pandemic, and service will continue 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“Life at the moment is far from business as usual,” said Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells, CEO. “But our water professionals and processes are in place to ensure customers can expect business as usual from our work as a utility.”

What changes?

Customer Service
Our Customer Service team shifted wholly to a call-back option and online communication platform since the early days of the pandemic. Customers have the following options available to reach Customer Service, including a new Customer Service hub…

Be careful what you reach for, wipes and similar TP alternatives should not be flushed.

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As packages of toilet paper fill carts and Northeast Ohio is left with empty shelves, many Americans are stocking up on disposable wipes or other alternative solutions to perceived TP shortages. The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District reminds you that while the packaging might say “flushable,” wipes should never be flushed down the toilet.

“Flushable wipes are not truly flushable,” said Jim Bunsey, Chief Operating Officer. “They might go down the drain, but they do not break up like regular toilet paper.”

In addition, paper towels, facial tissues and disinfecting wipes are also no-nos. …

How through the dust and muck of miles of underground construction, a cleaner Lake Erie is emerging.

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“What are they building there, anyway?” is a question motorists might ask upon seeing cranes and other machinery looming behind construction fencing by Interstate 90 and Cleveland’s Memorial Shoreway. Even when this work is completed, and the equipment, dust, and safety-vested crews are gone, what remains of the work won’t yield an obvious answer, as it’s mostly taking place underground.

What they’re building are massive storage tunnels — colossal projects that involve tried-and-true excavation techniques, modern technology, and dedicated teams of top-tier engineers, specialists, and laborers.

Seven storage tunnels are being built to fulfill the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s Project Clean Lake goal of all but eliminating sewage overflows into the Cuyahoga River, area streams, and Lake Erie, by 2035. …

Mike takes the mic on camera to talk about one of our oldest Cleveland sewers still in use today

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“In the 1890s, 1880s, combined sewer was the solution for the sewage in Cleveland, that’s how they were designed,” says Mike Zapior, Manager of Sewer System Maintenance & Operation.

Sewer System Maintenance & Operations Manager Mike Zapior took us for a tour of a 121-year-old stretch of sewer 25 feet under Cleveland over the summer. He walked and talked about the history of the pipe, how it was designed to protect the system, and how it’s better when it doesn’t have to be used at all.

The pipe dating back to 1898 is a combined sewer outfall, a relief structure that prevents sewage and stormwater from overwhelming the system during heavy rain events. …

How the Cuyahoga River’s new life can be known by the life within it.

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“A book is just like life and anything can change,” wrote Dr. Seuss. The same can be said for a river and the one fish, two fish, or 71 kinds of fish within it.

The 1969 Cuyahoga River fire was not the first as industrial and urban progress had plagued the river for decades prior. A 1967 television documentary narrator described the river as lifeless and dead, and the corresponding footage — along with a 1968 report on the fish in the Cuyahoga — left little to argue.

Kent State University hosted a Cuyahoga River symposium in 1968, and as summarized in a 2001 University of Minnesota journal report by Jeff Zeitler, the panelists put the river’s dire straits into…


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