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Environmental Enforcement: Ohio Water District to Pay $1.2 Million Penalty

Ohio Water District to Pay $1.2 Million Penalty for  Discharge of Raw Sewage

The U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced a comprehensive Clean Water Act settlement (pdf) with the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District (NEORSD) that will address the flow of untreated sewage into Cleveland area waterways and Lake Erie.

The settlement will safeguard water quality and protect human health by capturing and treating more than 98 percent of wet weather flows entering the combined sewer system, which services the city of Cleveland and 59 adjoining communities, according to the EPA.

NEORSD discharges nearly five billion gallons of untreated, raw sewage approximately 3,000 to 4,000 times per year into Lake Erie and nearby rivers. The settlement will require NEORSD to spend approximately $3 billion to install pollution controls, including the construction of seven tunnel systems ranging from two to five miles in length that will reduce the discharges of untreated, raw sewage to approximately 537 million gallons per year.

The settlement also requires the district to pay a penalty of $1.2 million which will be distributed evenly between the United States and the State of Ohio.

The consent decree requires NEORSD to significantly advance the use of large scale green infrastructure projects to control wet weather sewer discharges by requiring the district to invest at least $42 million in green infrastructure projects. These projects will capture an additional 44 million gallons of wet weather flow beyond what the tunnels and other traditional infrastructure construction improvements will capture. Green infrastructure involves the use of properties to store, infiltrate, and evaporate storm water to prevent it from getting into the combined sewer system. Examples of potential green infrastructure projects include wetlands, troughs, cisterns, or other formations to store water, and rain gardens, urban croplands, and permeable pavement to allow for greater infiltration of water into the ground.

In addition to installing controls and investing in green infrastructure, NEORSD will spend $1 million to operate a hazardous waste collection center. The center will provide communities in Cuyahoga County with a permanent location to drop off household hazardous waste. According to EPA, the collection center is expected to collect and dispose of one million pounds of hazardous waste per year. NEORSD will also spend approximately $800,000 to improve other water resources.

The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

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