Great Lakes face harm: Eco-group criticizes
Akron's sewage part of Midwest problem threatening health
By Bob Downing
Akron Beacon Journal
Posted May 18, 2005
Ohio and other Great Lakes states need to do more to clean
up combined sewers such as those in Akron that dump raw
sewage into streams and lakes after heavy rain, says an
eco-group's new report.
``If we don't deal with the combined sewer overflow problem,
the Great Lakes will become the Not So Great Lakes,''
said Michele Merkel of the Environmental Integrity Project,
based in Washington, D.C.
The failure of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
and the states -- Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin
and Minnesota -- to solve combined sewer problems results
in a continued threat to human health and a problem that
will take ``several decades'' to fix, she said.
Her 76-page report released Tuesday concludes that 62
percent of the municipalities in Ohio and five other states
fail to meet federal requirements imposed eight years
ago for sewer maintenance or reporting, and 54 percent
have not adopted a long-range plan to eliminate combined
sewers. In Ohio, only 43 of the 88 communities with combined
sewers have submitted a long-range plan, and only 26 of
those plans have been approved, the report said.
More needs to be done to solve a problem too often overlooked,
and the new report is a good starting point, said environmentalist
Elaine Marsh of Akron, head of the Friends of the Crooked
River, a grass-roots group devoted to the Cuyahoga River.
In cities with combined sewers, one line handles human
waste and storm runoff. In heavy rain, the sewer lines
cannot handle the increased flow. To keep them from backing
up in people's homes, they are designed to overflow into
waterways. But as a result, a large volume of untreated
sewage winds up in the waterways. That results in high
bacteria counts for 48 hours after heavy rains.
Akron, Wooster and the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer
District in Cuyahoga County have combined sewer problems.
Akron is complying with federal sewer maintenance rules
and has submitted a long-range plan. The city is negotiating
with the federal and state EPAs over a timetable.
The city has begun construction of a $15.3 million project
along the Little Cuyahoga River in North Akron. The city
is building an open concrete tank -- 200 feet by 300 feet
by 35 feet -- where the polluted runoff will be stored
once the facility is completed in mid-2006.
But solving Akron's combined sewer problem with 38 outlets
that pollute the Little Cuyahoga and Cuyahoga rivers and
the Ohio & Erie Canal will cost $377 million, and
Akron officials have said repeatedly that the city cannot
afford to eliminate the problem.
Not having the money is ``a red herring,'' Merkel said
in a teleconference. Cities as small as Youngstown and
Hammond, Ind., and as large as Detroit have found the
money, she said.
Solving the sewer problem in Ohio alone is estimated
to cost $3.6 billion, according to the report.
The report -- one of the most sweeping looks at America's
combined sewers -- calls on President Bush and Congress
to provide more money for sewer projects.
Ohio is trying to solve the combined sewer problem, said
EPA spokeswoman Linda Oros. ``We're working with everyone...
and things are being done, although they're not final,''
The report is available at www.environmentalintegrity.org.
Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or firstname.lastname@example.org