CLEVELAND -- Six straight days of rain have strained local wastewater treatment plants past their capacity.
At the Southerly Wastewater Treatment Facility in Cuyahoga Heights, extra personnel have been struggling since last week to keep pace with the massive amounts of water pouring into the system.
'It's been extremely tough," admits plant superintendent George Schur. "The Cuyahoga River has presented many problems for the plant but the plant staff has pulled together and met the challenge."
On a normal day the plant treats just over 100 million gallons of wastewater and returns it into the environment via the Cuyahoga River, basically clean enough to drink.
Superstorm Sandy has forced the plant to deal with 7 times the amount of water on a daily basis.
Somewhat more than half of that water leaves the Southerly plant fully treated, with a little less than half getting only partial, primary treatment. It, too, goes right into the Cuyahoga River.
"It has a large amount of sedable solids in it, a large amount of BLD, which is basically a food source, and maybe bits of ammonia," Schur explained. "But since we are well past the recreation season, it is much less a problem."
Same for the untreated sewage which cannot be handled at all and goes directly into the lake. This combined sewer overflow, or CSO, is rainwater mixed with the contents of sanitary sewers coming from homes and businesses.
"That is water we just cannot handle," says Schur.
The Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District has embarked on a $3 billion, 25-year improvement program to be able to deal with higher capacity.
It includes construction of 7 massive tunnels to hold CSO water until it can be properly treated.