Dumping partially treated sewage into area waterways during heavy rains - a much debated federal proposal - is being done now in Toledo under terms of a federal lawsuit settlement.
The proposal being considered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would allow communities to blend fully and partially treated sewage and discharge it into waterways instead of requiring that all wastewater be fully cleansed. This would be allowed only during heavy rains, when the wastewater treatment plants exceed capacity. The EPA is expected to make a decision by February.
The proposal has created great concern and debate among environmental groups that say it would weaken the Clean Water Act, a 1972 federal law environmentalists call a landmark because it led to the modern era of sewage treatment and set unprecedented controls on what can be put into waterways.
Despite the nationwide debate, Toledo is continuing with its 15-year, $450 million program that will solve the city's problem of untreated sewage discharges.
Bob Williams, director of the Toledo Waterways Initiative, said this program, approved by the EPA, employs the use of so-called "blended" sewage.
"It's already taken into consideration in the consent decree," he said. "Once on line, all the water will receive some sort of treatment before it goes into the river. We'd be a lot better off than we are now."
City residents approved the expenditure for the sewage program in a referendum in 2002, ending a long-running federal lawsuit. The program is designed to end the dumping of untreated sewage into the Ottawa and Maumee rivers.
Combined sewers - when one line carries sewage and rainwater to the treatment plant - have been blamed for sewage discharge. During heavy rains, these sewers tend to overflow, causing untreated sewage to escape into the waterways.
The program approved by the EPA for Toledo will end those accidental discharges, Mr. Williams said.
As it stands today, Toledo's wastewater treatment plant can fully treat up to 200 million gallons of sewage a day. Any excess would be discharged into the waterways untreated.
The upgrades, to be completed in about two years, will allow the city to partially treat 200 million more gallons of sewage.
Partial, or wet-weather, treatment involves removing all solid materials and disinfecting the water, but it is not run through a secondary treatment process, Mr. Williams said. The additional 200 million gallons will be considered blended because it will be combined with the fully treated water, he added.
Mr. Williams said the need to release blended sewage occurs about four or five times a year.
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