Quick note to The Onion, Cleveland’s elevated sewers are actually a thing.

Fake news: Cleveland’s elevated sewers. Real news: Cleveland’s elevated sewers. [Mind blown.]

Yes, we’re making a huge water-quality and infrastructure investment in Northeast Ohio which will indeed “serve the needs of local residents through the 21st century and beyond.” And no, Onion, it’s not an open-air elevated sewer system.

But what if I told you we’ve actually already been operating an elevated sewer system for decades?

The Onion’s satire headline announced the completion of an “elevated sewer system” in Cleveland this week, but there’s a grain of truth in an otherwise for-entertainment-purposes-only story: Two elevated sewers have sat in plain view, resting high above the Cuyahoga River, daring back to the 1980s. The Big Creek Interceptor and Southwest Interceptor cross the river and river valley and connect to our Southerly treatment plant in Cuyahoga Heights.

Granted, the Southwest and Big Creek systems are not the “open-air” innovations The Onion described, but their approach was indeed both innovative and cost-effective at the time. And the design still makes sense today.

“Most sewers rely on gravity for the movement of flows,” says our Manager of Sewer System Maintenance & Operation Mike Zapior. “If these two sewers remained underground and under the river, pumping stations would be needed to move the flows back up the hillside…”

“Going above ground with a gravity sewer is more efficient and cost-effective than using pump stations and force mains to transport flows.”

These elevated lines are perched 40 feet above the Cuyahoga River, and about 25 feet above the shore, says Zapior.

The Southwest Interceptor began construction in the 1980s, serving five communities around Southerly. The Big Creek Interceptor trestle dates back to the 1930s, and has been repaired several times over the years; it serves 17 communities.

Photo courtesy Ebony Hood, @neorsd.
Photo courtesy Ebony Hood, @neorsd.

Innovation and creativity take many forms. So while an open-air elevated sewer through the heart of Cleveland is not something on our drawing board, we’re all for embracing humor to share little-known facts about infrastructure.

You do you, Onion. And if our #ThroneDrones idea takes off, we’ll let you know.


Special thanks to Mike Zapior for review and Ebony Hood for the pics.

Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District

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Official Medium channel of the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District in Cleveland, OH

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