Elyria, Ohio, will invest nearly $250 million in capital improvement projects over the next 20 years to eliminate longstanding discharges of untreated sewage into the Black River, 10 miles upstream from Lake Erie. The plan is part of a consent decree negotiated with federal and state regulators following more than 1,000 illegal discharges from the city's sewer system into the river or its tributaries since 2011. 

Elyria’s 54,000 residents and surrounding portions of Lorain County are served by a 30-million-gallon-per-day (MGD) wastewater treatment plant that is city owned and operated. Most of its 171-mile sewer collection network consists of separate sanitary and storm sewer lines, but about ten miles of 80- to 100-year-old combined sanitary and storm sewers serve the oldest parts of Elyria’s downtown.

The Clean Water Act requires adequate infrastructure to limit discharges of untreated sewage,” said Todd Kim, assistant attorney general in the environment and natural resources division of the U.S. Dept. of Justice. “These settlements require meaningful investments that will improve the health of the Black River and Lake Erie.”

The federal and state complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio also alleges the city failed to comply with a 1986 consent judgment related to violations of its state-issued pollutant discharge permit.


Major System Upgrades

The consent decree calls for the city to complete sewer system upgrades by Dec. 31, 2044, with the most environmentally significant elements to be in place within the next 15 years. Major improvements include completion of the city’s East Side Relief Sewer—a five-mile, 78-in.-dia interceptor sewer that will convey both sanitary and stormwater sewer flows to the treatment plant during rain events.

Outfall-specific storage projects sized up to 110,000 gallons will control combined sewer overflows to no more than four events a year, with a total annual volume of less than six million gallons of discharge during the typical year.   

Elyria will also increase treatment plant capacity to 40 MGD and incorporate a chemically enhanced primary treatment and high-rate disinfection facility to treat combined sewage wet weather flows above the expanded secondary treatment capacity. Other projects include various pump station improvements and construction and rehabilitation of sanitary and storm sewers to reduce inflow and infiltration. 

The city also will pay a federal civil penalty of $100,000, contribute another $100,000 to Ohio’s Surface Water Improvement Fund and submit semiannual progress reports to federal and state regulators until all work is completed. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says the infrastructure improvements will reduce more than more than 50,000 lb of total suspended solids and nearly 28,000 lb of biochemical oxygen demand from the Black River system. Total nitrogen and phosphorous amounts will also be reduced.

The consent decree is subject to 30-day public comment period and court approval.