Heavy rains can cause older portions of Toledo's sewer system to overflow, washing untreated sewage into area rivers.
The city presented some possible solutions for the problem last night at the Main Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, in an ongoing series of discussions designed to gather public input.
A consent decree signed in 2002 after litigation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires the city to control those overflows.
Under the Toledo Waterways Initiative, storage or treatment facilities could be built at five sites along the Maumee River by Aug. 31, 2016, part of a $450 million project.
After heavy rainfall, storage facilities would hold water until the main treatment plant had enough capacity to handle it. Treatment facilities would treat the overflow water to a degree not yet decided and release it into the river.
In other areas, the city could build separate sewer lines for waste and storm runoff.
"I like the idea of storage better than treatment," Lara Burkett said, adding that the water would be treated completely at the plant. She is the administrator of the Lucas Soil and Water Conservation District.
The two options are not greatly different in cost; also, the cost estimates are so preliminary that they were only given in relative amounts.
The five locations on the Maumee River where storage or treatment facilities could be built are International Park, the I-280-Front Street interchange, near the Miami Street-Oakdale Avenue intersection, Jamie Farr Park, and Maumee Avenue.
The structures would be mostly underground and covered with grass, probably creating a mound.
The size of the building above ground would depend on whether the facility was used for storage or for treating water and on how much the water was treated.
"It's really hard to ballpark," said Bob Stevenson, the city's director of public utilities.
Members of the project said the buildings would be fairly small and designed to blend in with the surrounding area.
Virgina Jimenez, who lives near Jamie Farr Park, formerly Riverside Park, said she went to the meeting because the city plans to put a facility near baseball diamonds used by neighborhood youths.
"It's by the park, where they play ball," she said.
Mrs. Jimenez said she was reassured because the facility would be underground and covered with grass. "It sounds good," she said.
The sewer project is designed to reduce the number and volume of the overflows that occur. Some parts of the sewer system overflow into the rivers 25 or more times a year.
Similar projects around the country are designed so that overflows occur only two to six times a year, said Carol Hufnagel, a vice president with Tetra Tech, an engineering and management consulting firm that is involved with the project.
Toledo's project is considering options that would reduce the number of overflows to between zero to 12 a year.
But costs to build and operate the facilities increase as the number of overflows decreases, and the water quality in the river does not necessarily improve, she said.
"If we get it down to about eight times a year, that's about as good as it gets," she said.
The city needs to submit a plan to the U.S. EPA by July. A review and modification period will follow.