Swimming in our Great Lake Revisited

by | Aug 15, 2023 | Family Friendly Stuff, Public Spaces, Parks & Recreation, Uncategorized

August 2023 update to our 2017, EA’s second ever blog. While we are not asked this question nearly as often as we used to be, we recently had an open water swimmer who was relocating to Cleveland and she asked us this question, so we thought we’d explore what has happened since we first posted this six years ago.

There is nothing like a river on fire to spark (pardon the pun) the imagination and keeps a story alive for decades. Twenty years ago we were asked, “Is it safe to swim in Lake Erie”, so often we decided to make it a blog posting. About 5 years ago we heard a 20something summer intern say to his c0-workers on an EA Discover CLE group outing, “Burning river? I’ve heard that’s Great Lakes Brewing’s best IPA beer“. And just like that, a younger generation helped us move out of the past and into the future, one sip at a time! There is a Great Lakes Burning River Fest held every year where you can join fellow clean water and beer enthusiasts along the mouth of the river.

The 1969 fire on the Cuyahoga River led to the Birth of the EPA! Hitting the national news the public outcry supported environmentalists who had been urging the government to safeguard and clean up public waters, hence the Clean Water Act of 1972, The burning river in Cleveland forever changed how America protects its public water sources and for that you are welcome! And if you want to see some the myths debunked, Cleveland’s NPR stations does just that here.

With its 10th anniversary being celebrated this summer the Cleveland Metroparks took over the management of the lakefront, as well as managing 24,000 acres of green space that encircles Cleveland called The Emerald Necklace. Prior to this, the State of Ohio managed many of the lakefront parks and beaches. However, with competing areas of focus and a slim budget, the waterfront was not a high priority so the quality of our lakes and rivers steadily declined.

Lake Erie skyline at dusk (photo credit Tom Russell)

Every day is a good beach day ever since the state handed over control of Edgewater Beach & Park! Everything the Metroparks touches turns to gold, or rather green!

Swimmers stake out their spots on beaches regularly in warmer months. However, since our beaches sit close to the city center, the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District maintains a beach/water quality website (follow @NEORSDbeaches on X.com formerly know as Twitter) which can suffer after a heavy rainfall. Why? Our early sewers are “combined sewers” that carry sanitary sewage from your home, stormwater from rain and melted snow, and industrial waste in a single pipe. When indoor plumbing first developed, the pipes from residential buildings fed into original storm sewers, which emptied raw sewage directly into area streams and Lake Erie. Thankfully, treatment plants were built in the 1910s and 1920s to clean the dirty water before it enters the environment. Today, when there is heavy rain and storms produce large volumes of surface runoff, combined sewers may not be able to handle the increase. For this reason, rather than having sewage back up into homes or treatment plants, relief points (combined sewer overflows or CSOs) were designed in the system to release the combined flow into lakes and streams.

EA staff & significant others after a volunteer beach clean up at Edgewater Park

Ohio is not the only state where this happens. Roughly 40 million people in 32 states live in cities with CSOs, mostly older east coast and Midwest cities including: Maine, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, and Illinois. If you are coming from a state other than these, this might be a new phenomenon, which we are happy to explain.

The good news is that the Sewer District launched Project Clean Lake in 2010, a 25-year plan for huge storage tunnels, smart green infrastructure, and treatment plant improvements to manage higher flow volumes and reduce overflows. These projects will offer relief for overloaded pipes and keep more stormwater out of the combined sewer system, which can also help local communities alleviate sewer backups and flooding problems.

If you are lucky enough to have have your own boat, or better yet, a friend with a boat, it is perfectly fine to jump into Lake Erie several miles off-shore, even after a very heavy rain. The negative effect on water quality occurs close to the shoreline (AKA beaches) where the sewer run off happens.

While we still have warm summer days to sit in the sun on the beach and cool off in Lake Erie, here are several of EA staff’s most frequented beaches with amenities like clean bathrooms, grills, shaded picnic areas, snack bars, ice cream shops.

Edgewater Beach just 10 minutes west of downtown CLE

From a local Clevelander, here are her 2023’s twelve best Cleveland beaches extending to the west Lake Erie Islands and east to Mentor.

And, here is the original story from 2017 – including EA’s President Margy Judd participating in her 3rd Polar Beach Plunge in Lake Erie on New Year’s Day (a tradition that has sadly gone away).

More than 100 days a year, Executive Arrangements helps guide a candidate/family as they explore the idea of a relocation to Cleveland or Akron. If your organization could use a partner in talent attraction to dramatically increase your odds of landing your first choice candidate and insuring they are on-boarded to our town professionally call us at 216.231.9311