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Akron, Ohio

Mayor Horrigan Gives Update on Federal Consent Decree and Remaining Projects


City of Akron Press Release
From the desk of Stephanie Marsh, Chief Communications Officer
Published: 04-19-2022

Akron, Ohio, April 19, 2022 — Since 2014, the City of Akron has been under one of the strictest Federal consent decrees in the nation. The City was tasked with completely overhauling the combined sewer overflow system with the goal of drastically cleaning up Akron’s waterways. To date, the City has completed 23 of the 26 required projects with one more currently under construction. The City of Akron is seeking a modification to the two remaining Akron Waterways Renewed! Projects. The proposed changes would provide the same essential environmental benefits but is estimated to save ratepayers an additional $140 million.

“While we are extremely proud of the progress we have made to clean up our waterways, it has come at a burdensome and inequitable cost,” said Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan. “Our efforts to date have already resulted in keeping 2.2 billion gallons of untreated overflow and partially treated bypasses out of our waterways in a typical year.  But Akron’s most vulnerable residents are paying the cost of this unaffordable burden. At every available opportunity, I’ve worked to mitigate the financial impact on our ratepayers including getting the first two amendments to the consent decree passed, utilizing innovated financing and spending over $1.3M for our Akron Cares program so far. This is still not enough, which is why we are proposing a third amendment.”

The proposal, based on new and updated information, would “right size” the tunnel for the Northside Project with a 16-foot diameter tunnel in lieu of an oversized 24-foot diameter tunnel.  The 16-foot diameter tunnel still exceeds the performance criteria of no overflows in the typical year. The proposal would also eliminate the need for a high-rate water treatment facility that would sit adjacent to the Towpath Trail near a residential area and is only projected to operate  three times a year for very little environmental benefit.

History and Background

In 2015, the City submitted an Integrated Plan in accordance with the U.S. EPA’s Integrated Planning Framework (IPF) Guidance. Integrated Planning is a process that identifies efficiencies to best prioritize capital investments and achieve water quality objectives, including an evaluation of green infrastructure and other types of sustainable solutions.  Akron’s Integrated Plan included several recommendations for modifications to the City’s Long Term Control Plan (LTCP) based upon an updated and more accurate version of the hydraulic model of the sewer system.

By 2015 and well into 2019, Akron, the U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA engaged in extensive negotiations regarding these recommendations and modifications to the LTCP. These negotiations resulted in the First and Second Amendments to the Consent Decree, meaning the City was able to replace specific LTCP control measures with projects that not only performed better, but also provided for the use of “green” infrastructure and were less expensive. The first two amendments to the consent decree resulted in a savings of $142 million for ratepayers.

As part of Akron’s Integrated Plan, Akron investigated the possibility of a complete separation of the sewers (replacing the combined sewer with separate sanitary sewers and storm sewers) in the North Hill area in place of the required 24-foot diameter tunnel. This involved updating and improving the hydraulic modeling of the system for this area. Upon completion of this work, Akron determined that the most cost-effective solution to meet the requirement of no overflows in the typical year was to construct a “right sized” 16-foot diameter tunnel.

Numerous meetings and presentations explaining the updated evaluations and recalibrated model demonstrated that the 16-foot diameter tunnel not only resulted in zero overflows in the typical year but provides greater level of control than required under the performance requirements of the LTCP. Akron’s decision to replace the suggested 24-foot diameter tunnel with the 16-foot tunnel was made known in June of 2021. The 16-foot diameter tunnel not only provides the same benefits as outlined in the LTCP, it also provides for approximately $40 million in associated cost savings. From August 2021 to November 2021 the City did extensive analysis at the request of the U.S. EPA and found the 24-foot tunnel only provided minor benefits during significantly larger than typical year storms, therefore solidifying Akron’s stance that the “right sized” 16-foot tunnel met and exceeded all the correct requirements.

The Ohio Canal Interceptor Tunnel (OCIT) enhanced high-rate treatment facility (EHRT) is intended to treat overflows from OCIT which was completed in June of 2020. OCIT has been successful in reducing CSO events to 3 times in a typical year, compared to the originally projected 7 times.  Therefore, the EHRT would only be active 3 times per typical year. Treating those 3 remaining overflows, at an estimated cost of greater than $30 million per overflow, will have negligible impact to water quality based on an evaluation of the Ohio EPA’s Total Maximum Daily Loads for the Lower Cuyahoga River (TMDL) Report.  Without the EHRT, Akron would still meet and exceed all the criteria in the U.S. EPA’s 1994 CSO Policy, which the EPA is mandated to follow under the Clean Water Act. Akron has implemented a Consent Decree with the highest level of control in the country with a program that will result in greater than 99% capture of all wet weather flows and elimination of 99.7% of the combined sewer overflows.

Present Day

Despite the detailed technical and financial justifications supporting Akron’s proposal, Akron recently received word that the U.S. EPA will not support the proposed changes. When asked about the basis for the denial, the U.S. EPA refused to answer the City’s questions around equity. Consequently, Akron entered into an informal resolution process with the U.S. EPA. That process came to a close on Friday, April 15 without a resolution. Akron now has 30 days from the 15th to notify the U.S. EPA of moving forward with the formal dispute process as outlined in the consent decree.  U.S. EPA and Ohio EPA would then have 45 days to serve Akron with their respective written statements of position.  If there is still not a resolution at the end of the 45 days, the City will file a motion for judicial review with the court. This would most likely occur in July 2022.

In conjunction with the dispute resolution process, Mayor Horrigan has submitted a letter to the U.S. EPA administrator and White House officials. You can read the full letter here. He also filmed a short video explaining the City’s position and reading parts of his letter which you can view here.

Abridged excerpts taken from that letter follow below:

“Frankly, I am disappointed by U.S. EPA’s response to Akron’s proposed modification; its failure to consider how its decision results in direct, disproportionate, and needless impacts to Akron’s disadvantaged communities and, specifically, to our communities of color; and U.S. EPA’s failure to effectively incorporate its environmental justice efforts into its own decision-making process.

Our financial analysis shows that the Consent Decree already imposes a ‘high financial burden’ to all of Akron’s ratepayers and has required a sewer rate increase of 269%. Our projections for the cost for the final required Consent Decree projects results in 2.46% of Akronites’ median household income being spent on these projects. For Akron ratepayers in the lower 20% income bracket, the figure balloons to a staggering 9.5% of their median household income. We cannot and should not have to ask Akron’s most vulnerable residents to shoulder a disproportionate burden for sewer infrastructure that is simply not needed to meet our water quality obligations.

When asked about the basis for your denial, the U.S. EPA refused to answer our questions around equity. This refusal runs counter to President Biden’s Executive Order 14008 and the Clean Water provisions of the Justice40 Guidance. If disproportionate impacts to our cities’ most vulnerable residents will not be considered in an agency’s decision-making process, I am afraid those commitments are mere words on paper and another failed attempt to have government work for all, instead of just the very few.” – Akron Mayor Daniel Horrigan

To learn more about the consent decree and how you can get involved, including sending your own letter encouraging Administrator Regan to reconsider the U.S. EPA’s position on Akron’s proposal, please visit

For further information, contact:
Stephanie Marsh
Chief Communications Officer
Phone: 330-375-2754
E-mail: [email protected]

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