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NEWS: Wastewater treatment plants operating at capacity, fully treating flows triple the average

SUMMARY: Nearly 1.5 billion gallons of sewage receiving full or partial treatment in last 24 hours; 75-million gallon Mill Creek Tunnel filled; CSOs discharging into environment; plants partially treating bypassing flow.

UPDATE 2012 11/01: WKYC visited our Southerly plant yesterday afternoon to feature the plant staff’s efforts to manage the enormous volume of flow. Here’s the story.

The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District’s three wastewater treatment plants (“Easterly” and “Westerly” in Cleveland, “Southerly” in Cuyahoga Heights) are fully treating flows more than triple the average daily flow. In the last 24 hours, the three wastewater treatment plants fully treated 800 million gallons of wastewater. In addition, another 660 million gallons received primary treatment (solids removal) before being discharged into the environment.

The Sewer District’s 230 miles of interceptor sewers—large sewers that transport sewage to the plants—are transporting additional sewage for treatment. In addition, the Mill Creek Tunnel, capable of holding 75 million gallons of combined sewage, is filled to capacity. Lastly, locally-owned sanitary sewers contain flow as well. There is a tremendous amount of wastewater awaiting treatment.

Although a great deal of sewage is being treated or stored for future treatment, some flow is being discharged into the environment. Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) discharge a mixture of sanitary sewage and stormwater at 126 points throughout the Sewer District’s service area; many of these points have overflowed due to Hurricane Sandy (see photo and video below of CSO along Mill Creek).

An immediate concern is the probable flooding of the Cuyahoga River, currently exceeding 20 feet. Depending on flood levels, the river may drastically impact the Southerly’s ability to treat wastewater because the plant’s effluent outfall (treated-water discharge point) can back up, ceasing operation. If this happens, wastewater will not be able to be treated by Southerly.

“Our infrastructure, some of it more than 100 years old, is only capable of holding so much water,” said Julius Ciaccia, Executive Director, NEORSD. “Our two programs—the Regional Stormwater Management Program and Project Clean Lake—will benefit our region in two different ways. The ‘Stormwater Program’ will address regional flooding and erosion problems, and ‘Project Clean Lake’ will add necessary infrastructure to capture and treat combined sewage.”

In summary:

  • The Sewer District’s three treatment plants operated at capacity throughout the evening; they are continuing to operate at this level indefinitely and, in the last 24 hours, 800 million gallons of sanitary sewage were fully treated.An additional 660 million gallons of sewage received partial treatment. 
  • Power was maintained at all facilities. Three power lines are reported down at Easterly but plant operations are not affected. 
  • The Mill Creek Tunnel, capable of holding 75 million gallons of combined sewage, is filled to capacity. Combined sewage—a mixture of sanitary sewage and stormwater—would historically have been discharged into Mill Creek.

  • Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) have discharged combined sewage into the environment.
  • As previously reported, the Sewer District is available to assist other utilities, governmental agencies, municipalities and other wastewater treatment facilities in emergency situations. These entities can contact Southerly’s Security Office at (216) 432-7333 24 hours a day.

The Sewer District is a regional agency and, as such, is not responsible for local infrastructure.  If our customers are experiencing a sewer backup or localized street flooding, they should contact their municipality.

For immediate updates, follow us on Twitter: @neorsd and @WallyWaterdrop.

    Comments ( 1 )

  • We appreciate NEORSD's efforts to treat an overwhelming volume of water following super-storm Sandy. Volunteers with the Alliance for the Great Lakes' Adopt-a-Beach™ program are ready and able to assist in the immediate need for shoreline cleanup. We are coordinating several Ohio cleanup events for next Saturday—Nov. 10. Anyone interested in helping these cleanup efforts can register for an event online at or contact Hyle Lowry, Ohio outreach coordinator, for more information at 216-630-8140 or email We also need additional signatures on our petition to help ensure financing is available to help NEORSD and other Great Lakes communities finance needed infrastructure upgrades.

    Lyman Welch
    Water Quality Program Director
    Alliance for the Great Lakes