Lakewood's Storm Water Runoff Under the EPA Microscope
Officials hope to comply with federal guidelines, but with a price tag of hundreds of millions of dollars, the city can’t swing it.
City officials concede that for the past 100 years in Lakewood, “the solution to pollution was dissolution.”
That’s no longer an option.
With Lakewood reporting in 2010 that 91.4 million gallons of storm/sewer water were dumped into Lake Erie, the EPA is forcing the city to make some changes.
Those fixes to the city’s infrastructure could be expensive — as much as $500 million. The city is working on an agreement with the US EPA to address the problem.
Lakewood’s combined sewers are designed to take all flows to the treatment plant, which can process about 20 million gallons per day. However, during storms, the volume of water entering the combined sewer system can exceed both the capacity of the combined sewers and the treatment plant.
What doesn’t make it to the treatment plant ends up in the lake — with fish, swimmers and drinking water.
That just doesn’t float with stringent environmental standards that regulate outflow into the nation’s rivers, streams and lakes.
Joe Beno, the city’s director of public works, said the actual amount of sewage deposited into Lake Erie is much less than 91.4 million gallons.
Hardly noticeable, he said.
“Lakewood is not discharging direct sewage into the lake — nothing goes into the lake unless it rains,” Beno said, adding that it’s difficult to measure the actual percentage of raw sewage in the discharge. “It’s mostly rainwater.”
Lakewood Mayor Michael Summers said the next step is to use computer models to show what happens under certain weather conditions — and where.
There are about 70 water meters throughout the city inserted into the sewers that collect data about where the volume exceeds and at what points.
The city, facing the possibility of $10,000 fines each day for failure to comply, is seeking a solution.
“Our hope is that we can demonstrate our willingness to comply on an incremental basis with infrastructure changes that make sense — that actually solves the problem,” Summers said. “The danger is to spend $200 million on one big strategy and have it not work. What a disaster.”
“There will need to be multiple solutions in Lakewood — it’s not going to be one fix.”
Here are a few of them:
- One option is to tear up all the streets in the city and install a completely new system. But with a price tag in the hundreds of millions of dollars, Beno said that is out of the question: “I would hope that the EPA wouldn’t bankrupt a city just to do that."
- Some communities take 20-foot interceptor tunnels that allow for a slower release of water that prevents large dumps of storm-water into the lake. Summers said that might be “some” of the solution, but right now it’s only an option.
- City officials are considering offering incentives to homeowners who disconnect their gutters.
- Rain barrels are an option, but they can fill up fast. For a two-hour storm, that might not be sufficient, Summers said.
- The city is asking new developers to build retention swales under new parking lots. Some places, such as Dunkin Donuts and Garfield Middle, already have them.
“Who benefits from clean water out of Lake Erie? Lakewood," Summers said. "We want to do it. We’ve just got to make sure that we can afford it make sure that whatever we do works.”