THE HISTORY OF SEWERS IN CLEVELAND, AS POORLY ILLUSTRATED ON SQUARES OF TOILET PAPER 🏀

  1. 1796: Welcome to the mouth of the Cuyahoga River, Moses Cleaveland!
    The river's low banks, dense forests and high bluffs led Moses to Settlers Landing and what would become the City of Cleveland once incorporated in 1836.
  2. Early 1800s: Industry booms and an oil empire is born, at the expense of a river
    Cleveland's business district was booming as the river allowed for importing, exporting and a lively steel industry. It was here that John D. Rockefeller launched Standard Oil. The Cuyahoga River became known as a "working river," but the business was taking its toll on water quality as pollution increased significantly.
  3. 1856: Piping clean water to Cleveland
    Until this point, most fresh water came from springs and wells or was drawn in barrels from local waterways. Then the city built its public water system that served a small segment of the city by drawing unfiltered water from the river.
  4. 1870s: Sewage affecting the water supply
    Industry continued thriving, but as businesses kept using the river as a dumping point for their wastes, the clean-water intakes were drawing pollutants into the pipes. Diseases were common and led the intakes to be placed further offshore. Benefits were short-lived and new solutions were needed.
  5. 1881: The River is declared "an open sewer through the center of the city."
    These were the words of Cleveland Mayor Rensselaer Herrick, and a series of public improvement projects began taking shape to expand the drinking water system and construct sewers for moving waste.
  6. 1905: The first sewer constructed
    What was little more than a huge pipe designed to carry sewage as far from the city as possible, the Easterly interceptor (still in use today) dumped combined stormwater and human waste directly into Lake Erie. It succeeded in what it was designed to do: get the waste away from the people. The unintended consequence was the further detriment of regional water quality.
  7. 1911: There has to be a better way
    The city was starting to see that lake's future was in jeopardy. They hired R. Winthrop Platt to study water supply and sewerage options for the area.
  8. 1911-1922: The first sewage treatment system begins taking shape
    Where the Easterly Interceptor met the shore of Lake Erie, the Easterly treatment plant was constructed, first doing little more than screening large floatable debris from the sewage. Eventually they added further primary treatment and chlorination.
  9. 1919-1927: Three treatment plants go online to serve Northeast Ohio
    Serving the eastern, western, and southern sections of the region, these three plants continue operating today, albeit with much improved equipment and a heckuva lot more sewers directed to them.
  10. 1930s-1960s: Water and sewer systems expand, but years of damage already done
    Despite the improvements to protect public health, Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River were paying the price, largely due to unregulated industrial discharges of waste directly to the Crooked River. It was about to come to a head.
  11. 1969: A burning River sparks outrage, attention
    June 22, 1969 is when it happened. A spark ignited floating oil, debris, and waste floating on the Cuyahoga River and the resulting fire turned national attention towards Cleveland and ultimately our water environment. One of many sad realities is that the 1969 fire was neither the first or worst such blaze. River fires were common across the country then, and this one was probably the 13th river fire in Cleveland's history.
  12. 1970: Mayor Stokes, and the birth of the EPA
    Mayor Carl Stokes was critical in drawing further national attention to the Cuyahoga River. In 1970, Congress passed environmental legislation that would become the Environmental Protection Agency.
  13. 1972: A regional sewer district to manage and plan proper treatment
    This is when the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District was formed to manage sewage treatment for (at that time) about 40 communities surrounding Cleveland.
  14. 1970s: Keep the flow coming
    The veins of the region's sewer network continue taking shape as major interceptors (trunk sewers) are constructed to receive flow from suburbs.
  15. 1970s-1980s: Clamping down on industrial polluters
    We began to assume authority for monitoring and establishing a pretreatment program for local industry to assure federal standards are met and water quality is protected. River fires were a result of unregulated discharges, and such dumping methods became a thing of the past.
  16. 1994: Cuyahoga River on the mend
    A study that year showed the Crooked River was rebounding and the trends were on our side.
  17. 2000s: Planning for the future, recalling the past?
    Sewers put in place in Cleveland's 1900s are still in use today. The design still functions, but it is not one that can be embraced today for new efforts to control pollution. New construction, green innovation, regulation, and proper maintenance are critical to ensure the next 200 years build on Cleveland's success rather than draw us back towards its water-quality failures.