Recent sewer improvements reduce potential for overflows at Edgewater Beach
Improvements completed as beach season, daily recreational water quality testing resumes
Today, in anticipation of beach season kicking off this weekend, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District announced recent sewer system improvements designed to reduce combined sewer overflows at Edgewater Beach.
“For nearly 50 years, the Sewer District has invested $5 billion in sewer and stormwater projects across the entire service area. Our early work included improving and building infrastructure,” said Kyle Dreyfuss-Wells, CEO of the Sewer District.
“As a result of recent work, upgrades to the Northwest Interceptor will likely reduce the volume and frequency of combined sewer overflows at the beach.”
By removing dam regulators, reducing pressure, and increasing gate levels as part of these upgrades, more sewer flow can be directed to the nearby Westerly Wastewater Treatment Plant instead of overflowing to the environment.
It’s just part of the decades-long effort to improve water quality, made possible by real investments in an old but critical sewer system along the lakefront.
A long history of reducing overflows at Edgewater Beach
Built in the late 1880s, the combined sewer outfall at Edgewater discharged a mixture of sewage and stormwater into Lake Erie approximately 40 to 50 times per year through the mid-1970s. The construction of the Northwest Interceptor, which was built in 1983, significantly decreased combined sewer overflows at Edgewater to, on average, once a year.
Over the past 5 years, the discharges have been more frequent. In 2020, the Edgewater outfall discharged four times, the last event occurring on October 21, leading Sewer District officials to seek further improvements.
“There have been 11 storms over the last 5 years that caused CSO events at Edgewater Beach,” said Doug Lopata, Sewer District Program Manager, Engineering & Construction.
“While we cannot remove the outfall, we did aggressively search for opportunities to improve the function of the sewer system connected to the outfall, so that we could reduce overflows, and we found better ways to manage flows in the Northwest Interceptor system.”
Three key upgrades make a difference at Edgewater
The Edgewater portion of the Northwest Interceptor (NWI) begins at W. 117th and ends at the Westerly Wastewater Treatment Plant located by the Edgewater Marina, collecting 9 square miles of sewage from homes and businesses on the westside of Cleveland.
As part of the improvements, the Sewer District removed three inflatable dams in the interceptor and provided improved ventilation, reducing pressure within the sewer pipe.
“The inflatable dams acted as unnecessary stop signs in the sewer system. They held back the combined sewage and, when finally deflated, allowed untreated water to move rapidly through the system, triggering the overflow gate to open,” said Lopata. “By eliminating the dams, it allows the flow of combined sewage to move slower and more consistently through the pipe.”
Additionally, the Sewer District sealed an access cover near the beach and raised the overflow gate control elevation, allowing more combined sewage to be directed to the Westerly Wastewater Plant for treatment rather than discharging into the environment.
These improvements raise the level of control at the Edgewater Beach outfall to nearly a 25-year storm event, which equals 3.16 inches of rain in a 6-hour period. Based on historical rain data, this type of rain event typically occurs every 25 years.
With these new upgrades, the Sewer District expects to eliminate many overflow events — like the last 11 that caused Edgewater to overflow — in the future.
In addition to upgrades, the Sewer District researched opportunities to eliminate the Edgewater outfall from the beach completely.
“The Edgewater outfall is a last resort release point during heavy rains, protecting homes, businesses, and the Westerly Wastewater Treatment Plant from flooding, so we unfortunately cannot remove it,” said Dreyfuss-Wells.
“We explored options, including relocating the outfall approximately 2,000 feet into Lake Erie. This option does not improve water quality and would cost more than $30 million to build. As a result, moving the outfall further into the Lake is not a good use our customers’ dollars. We will continue our focus on managing flows in this area to have as few overflows as possible.’’
Water quality testing at the beaches resumes Memorial Day weekend
Improvements to the Edgewater sewer system were completed just in time for the start of swimming season, which kicks off daily water quality testing at Edgewater, Villa Angela and Euclid Beaches; Huntington Beach samples are collected by the Cuyahoga County Board of Health (CCBH). Daily testing at the Sewer District laboratory will continue through Labor Day Weekend.
In addition to collecting and testing water samples, a Nowcast prediction of water quality will be provided each morning by 9:30 a.m., seven days a week for Edgewater and Villa Angela beaches; CCBH will provide the Huntington Beach Nowcast prediction.
Nowcast prediction signage also will be posted at the entrance of the beaches. Beach users who are consulting the Nowcast should be aware that water quality conditions can deteriorate rapidly as a result of storm conditions.
The Nowcast program does not account for water quality changes which happen after the morning Nowcast is issued.
“In addition to the decades of work to reduce combined sewer overflows, including Edgewater, the Sewer District has been collecting samples at local beaches for nearly 30 years and is one of the few entities in the nation conducting daily beach water quality testing,” said Dreyfuss-Wells.
“As an organization committed to protecting public health and the environment, the Sewer District is proud to provide this service to the community, so that the public is well informed.”