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SUN & STORMS: Beaches, rain in the July 4 news

How were you planning to spend your holiday week? Recent stories in The Plain Dealer may have you reconsidering, but they are examples of the problems that have plagued Northeast Ohio for some time.

And they are problems we are addressing.

When it comes to beach water quality—a topic we spent time blogging about last week with some entertaining results—there are several factors involved: Combined sewer overflows, and polluted stormwater runoff.



Combined sewers
are at the heart of Cleveland’s original sewer system as they were designed in the late 1800s to carry combined stormwater and sewage away from the city. To prevent backups in homes and treatment facilities, the sewers featured discharge points called outfalls where the flow was released to the environment during heavy storms.

They were great in the past (capturing and treating a lot of sewage and polluted stormwater runoff), but more and more hard surfaces in the region mean more runoff contributing to the flow. The sewers can’t handle the volume and it overflows to the environment. A big bacteria problem.

While we’ve made huge reductions in this flow volume since 1972—reducing annual overflow volumes from 9 billion gallons in the 1970s to 4.5 billion today—we must go further, and we are doing so. That 25-year plan is called Project Clean Lake, and it will prevent many of the overflows that raise bacteria levels at Lake Erie beaches. The result: 98% of the system’s overflow volumes will be captured for treatment. [Video, 5 minutes]

Besides overflows, stormwater adds to the problem. Runoff carries pollution, higher flow volumes increase stream erosion, and both of those factors lower water quality.

When it comes to these kind of problems, we have to think beyond community borders. Our regional stormwater management program—which received a green light last week and was touched on in a story today—is how we are doing that.

Reducing stormwater flow volumes in our combined sewer system and managing stream problems caused by stormwater runoff will pay big benefits to improve water quality regionally.

Does that change the fact that your holiday-weekend beach visit took a hit? No, but that fact demonstrates how things need to change. We’re proud to lead the solutions.

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