Why our Sewer Rates Increased

During periods of rain each year, Akron’s combined sewers overflow into our waterways. The current price tag under the Federal Consent Decree for Akron is $1.4 billion (2015 dollars).

The City’s CSO “Long Term Control Plan" (LTCP), which was submitted to the federal and state EPAs, will improve the sewer system by achieving zero untreated overflows in a typical year, thereby improving water quality in our streams and rivers.

Some of the money will be spent separating sewer lines from storm water drains. Where it is more cost-efficient, large basins will be constructed to hold wet weather flows until treatment can take place in an orderly fashion. At nearly $200 million – the largest single project – will be the construction of the 6,000 foot long Ohio Canal Interceptor Tunnel. In all, the Federal Consent Decree, including the LTCP, includes five sewer separation projects (four of which have been completed) two large tunnels, ten storage basins, improvements to the Water Reclamation Facility, improvements at the Mud Run Pump Station (including a storage basin) and a formal Capacity, Management, Operations and Maintenance (CMOM) Program. The City of Akron submitted an Integrated Plan to the EPA in August of 2015 to modify the current LTCP. The Integrated Plan is intended to provide an earlier water quality benefit, at a reduced cost with a more appropriate schedule.

The Integrated Plan proposes to decrease the amount of storage basins from 10 down to five, to increase the amount of sewer separations from five to 13 with added green infrastructure, go from two tunnels to one – all of which could potentially save the City approximately $300 million. Additionally, the City is seeking approval to stretch the timeline from completion in 2027 to completion in 2040.

The Integrated Plan also proposes to add green infrastructure elements, such as rain gardens, bump-ins, bio-detainment ponds, and other green initiatives to help achieve water quality standards. Merriman Separation – Green Project (CSO Rack 36) will be the first area to receive green infrastructure, with both bump-ins and a centralized constructed storm water wetland basin. Middlebury Separation – Green Project (CSO Rack 5&7) will be next with a constructed storm water wetland basin, and North Hill Separation – Green Project (CSO Rack 22) will follow shortly thereafter with a constructed stormwater wetland. The Merriman and Middlebury projects will eliminate the CSO. The North Hill project will control the CSOs to no overflows in the modeled typical year.

THE COST: Is there a more affordable way to solve the problem?

This is what the Mayor and City Council have asked its consultants and engineers to focus on as the project develops.

The Federal Court entered the Consent Decree on 11/17/2014. 

In December, 2013, the City began taking advantage of new U.S. EPA policies that allow cities to develop an “Integrated Plan.” 

Such plans allow options including “green infrastructure solutions” that make CSO remediation more sustainable, and in some instances more affordable. For example, catching falling rainwater at its source, community gardens and development of wetlands are environmental-friendly solutions, and many times cheaper to construct.

The City selected the international consulting firm MWH Global to develop an Integrated Plan to meet federal clean water standards. MWH Global has significant experience in developing long-term control plans with the U.S. EPA, and has managed projects in a number of U.S. cities to correct combined sewer overflows, including Indianapolis – the first city in the nation to modify its agreement with the EPA to include increased environmental benefits for less cost, saving the city of Indianapolis $740 million.

Innovative plan development, design and construction techniques will minimize project costs. Innovative approaches such as green infrastructure will be more sustainable, and can be implemented in a cost-effective manner, lowering the overall cost of complying with governmental standards.

Why Are We The Only Ones Paying For These Improvements?

The Federal Government has offered no substantial financial assistance since the 1980s to the 770+ cities with combined sewers. The State of Ohio has offered some low-interest loans to assist Ohio cities, but the burden falls on the ratepayers of the system: the homeowners and businesses in Akron and surrounding communities. Ratepayers in Fairlawn, Springfield, Coventry, Copley, Bath, Cuyahoga Falls, Tallmadge, and Mogadore have also seen increases in their bills.

Is There A More Affordable Way To Solve The Problem?

This is what the Mayor and City Council have asked its consultants and engineers to focus on as the project develops. In December, 2013, the City began taking advantage of new U.S. EPA policies that allow cities to develop an “Integrated Plan.” Such plans allow options including “green infrastructure solutions” that make CSO remediation more sustainable, and in some instances more affordable. For example, catching falling rainwater at its source, community gardens and development of wetlands are environmental-friendly solutions, and many times cheaper to construct. Under the leadership of the Public Service Department, an integrated team of City and consultant staff makes up the Akron Waterways Renewed! Program Management Team. The Program team is charged with meeting federal clean water standards, while implementing an Integrated Plan to address the water-quality issues facing the City of Akron. This team has experience in successfully negotiating with the EPA to reduce cost while increasing environmental benefit.

Innovative plan development, design and construction techniques will minimize project costs. Innovative approaches such as green infrastructure will be more sustainable, and can be implemented in a cost-effective manner, lowering the overall cost of complying with governmental standards.

The COST: Why didn't we solve this problem much earlier when costs were lower? 

Since 1987, Akron has spent more than $390 million to improve its sewer system, including upgrades to Akron’s wastewater treatment plant, the Akron Water Reclamation Facility in the Cuyahoga Valley.

In 2002, to demonstrate its commitment to the environment, and to end the most significant combined sewer overflows, Akron spent more than $23 million to build a storage basin on Cuyahoga Street – which holds 9.5 million gallons of water and sewage from the combined sewers until it can be safely treated when the rain event ends. This project alone accounts for 33% of the volume of overflows within Akron’s system.
Akron has been working to find an acceptable and cost effective way to deal with combined sewer overflows since 1993. Akron and the Ohio EPA reached an agreement on a comprehensive plan to address the issue in 2002, which was not approved by the U.S. EPA. In 2008, the City, the U.S. EPA, and the Ohio EPA reached an agreement that was rejected by the federal judge in Akron, and has continued working on projects to improve CSO control throughout this period.