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Great Lakes face harm: Eco-group criticizes combined sewers
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,'' she said.

The report is available at Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or







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