Ohio agrees to spend $85 million in effort to reduce sewage discharge into Lake Erie, Rocky River

(UC) — The city of Lakewood, Ohio, has agreed to perform work that will significantly reduce discharges of untreated sewage from its sewer system into Lake Erie and the Rocky River. The settlement is set forth in an interim partial consent decree that was filed today in federal court in the Northern District of Ohio.

The decree requires Lakewood to complete construction of a high-rate treatment system that will treat combined sewer overflows and build two large storage basins that will hold millions of gallons of wastewater until it can be sent to the wastewater treatment plant. Under the decree, Lakewood will spend about $85 million to improve its sewer system and will pay a civil penalty of $100,000, split evenly between the United States and Ohio.

The decree would partially resolve the violations alleged in the underlying complaint filed by the United States and the state of Ohio. The complaint alleges that Lakewood discharged untreated sanitary sewage into the Rocky River or directly into Lake Erie on at least 1,933 occasions from January 2016 through the present. The complaint also alleges that on numerous occasions from January 2016 through the present, Lakewood discharged water from combined sewer outfalls that violated the effluent limitations included in its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit.

“The Clean Water Act requires adequate infrastructure to limit discharges of untreated sewage,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This settlement requires meaningful investments in Lakewood’s wastewater collection and treatment system that will protect the waters surrounding the city of Lakewood.”

“Discharges of untreated sewage can damage local water bodies and sicken community members who come in contact,” said Larry Starfield, EPA’s Acting Assistant Administrator s for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This settlement will benefit Lakewood and other Ohio communities by preventing the discharge of millions of gallons of untreated sewage from entering the Rocky River and Lake Erie.”

Under the decree, Lakewood will also conduct multiple pipe lining and repair projects within its sewer system designed to eliminate causes of sanitary sewer overflows. Lakewood will also undertake a sampling pilot study designed to identify sewage in stormwater outfalls and a one-year post-construction monitoring program, which will provide the data needed for future work in Lakewood’s sewer system.

The implementation of this decree will prevent millions of gallons of raw sewage carrying harmful pollutants, such as E. coli, from being discharged to Lake Erie and the Rocky River. These reductions in pollutants will improve water quality in Lake Erie and the Rocky River. 

This decree is an important, but partial step to address the problems in Lakewood’s sewer system. It will resolve all civil penalty claims, but will not fully resolve the injunctive relief claims alleged in the complaint. Lakewood will be required through a subsequent, enforceable agreement with the United States and the state of Ohio to implement a plan that addresses the remaining permitted and unpermitted overflows in Lakewood’s sewer system and to demonstrate compliance with the Clean Water Act.

The proposed agreement is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval after publication in the Federal Register. The agreement is available on the Justice Department’s website: https://www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.


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