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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 , 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.”

Pat Ballasch September 15, 2011 at 05:25 PM
I talked with an engineer from the wast water plant when Lakewood had an engineering study. (3-5 yrs. ago) He said, storm water and sanitary (sewage) are treated differently. He suggested enlarging the treatment plant would be more cost effective than boring huge tunnels under the city to store water till it could be treated. I have a question. If storm water from streets is primary treated to remove petroleum products, would we be further ahead paving our streets with concrete? I know it's initially more expensive but the life is longer. Would that cut down the amount of storm water treatment? Are the merits of different solutions on a web site?
Colin McEwen September 15, 2011 at 05:38 PM
Pat, seems like a fair question...
Steve September 15, 2011 at 07:25 PM
Seems to me that not to long ago Lakewood did indeed disconnect some rain gutters from target streets. They paid to run a direct line, then paid to rehook it back up as it was, saying it just wasn't working. Anyone remember that? And asking new developers to build swales, what gives, they should be mandatory in Lakewood under new lots, but thats far to easy. I guess our city planners have better solutions. Spend 500 million or waste $10,000.00 a day. Go figure
Jerry Gubanich September 20, 2011 at 07:14 PM
Rainbarrels would be the biggest bang for the buck. Connect hose to your garden from rainbarrel and your done. It even decreases substantially water in your basement.
Jerry Gubanich September 20, 2011 at 07:18 PM
Rain barrels give the biggest bang for the buck. Connect rainbarrel to garden with hose. Thats it. The rainbarrel will substantially cut down on damp basements in Lakewood. I don't believe much hydrocarbon comes from the asphalt street. There is very little leaching from that type of asphalt.

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