WASHINGTON—The city of Akron, Ohio, has agreed to make extensive improvements to its sewer system to reduce or eliminate sewage overflows that have long polluted the Cuyahoga River and its tributaries, the Justice Department, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state of Ohio announced today.
According to a Clean Water Act settlement lodged today in federal court, the city is required to develop and implement a comprehensive plan to reduce or eliminate (i) untreated overflows of sanitary sewage and storm water from its combined sewer system; and (ii) bypasses around secondary treatment at the wastewater treatment plant. The city’s sewage and wastewater discharges flow into the Cuyahoga River, the Little Cuyahoga River, the Ohio Canal and their tributaries and contribute to the impairment of water quality in those waterways. The Cuyahoga River, an American Heritage River, flows through Cuyahoga Valley National Park and the Cleveland metropolitan area, to Lake Erie.
Over the course of the next year, the city will perform extensive analyses to identify appropriate methods of controlling or eliminating these discharges. After an opportunity for public participation, the federal and state governments will evaluate the results and require the city to implement appropriate improvements at various milestones, achieving full operation no later than Oct. 15, 2028.
In addition to the projects identified through the year-long analysis, over the next six years, the city will expand capacity at its wastewater treatment plant to allow for treatment of at least an additional 20 million gallons of wastewater per day. Also, over the next eight years, the city will construct separate sewer lines for five combined sewer outfall points. Finally, the city will engage in comprehensive capacity, maintenance and emergency response programs to improve sewer system performance and to eliminate releases from the sewer collection system, including basement backups, releases into buildings, and onto property.
As part of the settlement, the city will pay a $500,000 civil penalty and provide $900,000 to fund the removal of the Brecksville (Route 82) Dam on the Cuyahoga River, as a state supplemental environmental project. EPA estimates that the dam removal will contribute to a significant improvement in water quality in the Lower Cuyahoga River.
"The federal Clean Water Act requires that cities act to eliminate or reduce their sewage overflows into the nation’s rivers, lakes and oceans," said John C. Cruden, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We are pleased that the city of Akron has agreed to take the steps necessary to upgrade its sewer system. These steps will improve water quality in the Cuyahoga River and its tributaries, protect public health, and enhance recreation and other public uses of the River."
"Through this agreement, Akron has shown a serious commitment to address its long-standing sewage overflow problems," said Bharat Mathur, Acting EPA Region 5 Administrator. "The numerous steps and milestones required in the years ahead will ensure improved water quality for the people of Akron."
"This settlement will lead to significant improvement in the quality of the water flowing into the Cuyahoga River," said Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray. "It’s a credit to all parties involved that we were able to resolve this difficult problem, but I especially commend the city of Akron for their commitment to improve the environment and the health of the public."
The settlement resolves a lawsuit brought by the federal government against the city in February 2009, which the State of Ohio later joined. In that lawsuit, the federal and state governments alleged that the city of Akron illegally discharged from its aging combined sewer system and treatment plant more than one billion gallons of untreated combined sewage and wastewater each year into the Cuyahoga River, the Little Cuyahoga, the Ohio Canal and their tributaries. Among other things, the governments further alleged that on several hundred occasions over the past seven years, failures in the City’s sewer system resulted in releases of sewage into individuals’ homes and property.
The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, is subject to a 60-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. A copy of the consent decree and a summary of the agreement are available on the Justice Department Web site at http://www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.