10 years down, plus a new deal done.

Project Clean Lake has spent the last decade underground where we have led and learned — and now, changed for the better.

Construction Supervisor Karrie Buxton walks in the under-construction Doan Valley Tunnel project.

Traditional anniversaries commemorate 10 years with metal. Modern conventions honor it with diamonds.

We’re marking this particular 10-year anniversary with concrete, greenery, and now, pen to paper.

On Thursday, December 3, we approved a joint agreement with state and federal agencies to amend our Project Clean Lake pollution-control program in this its tenth year, a modification that will enhance plant operations, improve water quality, and save customers money in the long run.

The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District Board of Trustees approved the agreement with the US Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Justice and the State of Ohio to modify the District’s $3 billion combined sewer overflow consent decree known as Project Clean Lake, an agreement that was approved in 2010 and formally signed in 2011.

The bottom of the main Doan Valley Tunnel construction access shaft, looking up 200 feet towards the surface.

US District Court Judge Nugent approved and signed the modification of our consent decree March 16, making the revised agreement official.

Project Clean Lake is a 25-year endeavor of gray and green projects designed to reduce the amount of combined sewage discharging into local waterways during heavy rain events by billions of gallons.

“In addition to protecting public health and the environment, the Sewer District is focused on cost savings for its customers,” said Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells, Sewer District Chief Executive Officer. “When we began the negotiation process in 2018, it was clear that we could eliminate unnecessary expenditures while maintaining, and, in some cases, improving water quality with these modifications.”

The following consent decree modifications run the gamut, but all point to better performance and smarter spending built on the last decade of Project Clean Lake experience:

Flexibility during the design process

The original language in the 2010 consent decree included precisely how the Sewer District was required to construct projects throughout the 25-year construction schedule — detailed even to the point of specifying technology and techniques that have advanced with better information since then.

Under this modified agreement, the Sewer District will be able to construct various projects using the latest technology and data. The benefits are real:

  • Saves $12.6 million by eliminating unnecessary design requirements.
  • Eliminating additional pollution that could have resulted from using today’s technology standards and information to construct future projects.
  • Using up-to-date technology and information allows us to design and construct projects that will capture and treat more combined flow.

Eliminate unnecessary construction at Southerly plant

In 2010, the Sewer District was required to add an additional treatment process at Southerly called parallel treatment. Parallel treatment would have made the treatment process at the plant unnecessarily challenging — and more expensive, to the tune of $50 million just to build. What’s the benefit of striking this plan from the revised agreement?

  • Saves $50 million by eliminating construction.
  • Saves annual operations and maintenance costs.
  • An even higher quality of cleaned water will return from the plant to the Cuyahoga River.

Eliminate unnecessary construction at Westerly plant

Under the original 2010 consent decree, the Sewer District was required to build additional infrastructure at Westerly, but it became clear there was no environmental benefit. Under the modification, the requirement to build this new infrastructure was eliminated. That makes a difference:

  • A savings of $28 million.
  • Same high level of environmental protection through its existing treatment process.

“When the Sewer District submitted the request for this modification in 2018, it was done with the customer in mind. Without the benefit of federal funding, the Sewer District is constantly looking for these types of opportunities,” said Sewer District Board of Trustees President Darnell Brown. “This is a win for everyone, and we are appreciative of the US EPA, DOJ and State of Ohio’s work to help us reach this agreement.”

Southerly Wastewater Treatment Center in Cuyahoga Heights.

10 years at a glance: Project Clean Lake since 2010

The consent decree, a legal agreement between the US EPA, DOJ, State of Ohio, and the Sewer District outlining the plan to reduce combined sewer overflows, was initially approved by the Sewer District Board of Trustees in December 2010 and became official in July 2011.

Out of 80 planned projects, 67 of which are completed or active as of January 2022, including the seven large-scale tunnel projects:

To date, the work completed under the consent decree has led to elimination of about 1.7 billion gallons of overflow from discharging into the environment each year.

By 2023, an additional 300 million gallons will be added to that reduction total.

Map of 7 tunnels being constructed under Northeast Ohio

“We are proud of the progress we made but also acknowledge that these savings will not be directly or immediately realized by those customers most in need during these challenging times,” said Dreyfuss-Wells. “We encourage anyone who is struggling to pay their bills, including water, sewer and stormwater, to reach out to CHN Housing Partners for assistance. We are here to help today, tomorrow and in the future, and will continue to minimize costs while fighting for federal funding to reduce the financial impacts on customers.”

To request assistance through CHN Housing Partners, customer can find more information at https://chnhousingpartners.org/utilityassistance/

Project Clean Lake progress updated January 28, 2022.



Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

Official Medium channel of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District in Cleveland, OH