9 Public Works Sewer Megaprojects


What did the wastewater technician say when he walked into his office? “This place is a sewer.” Sure, but it still might have a billion-dollar view.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently gave America’s wastewater infrastructure a D+. As my teachers used to tell me, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Every day, public works crews around the world mobilize in their drilling rigs and combo trucks to undertake megaprojects. Nine of these sewer projects are more massive than others. These are much more than a new set of road paint hieroglyphics in a downtown intersection.

# 9 – Columbia, MO ($1.071B)

Although only an estimate of an “optimal” amount, Columbia needs to spend $1.071 billion over the next 20 years to remain in compliance with the Clean Water Act. Hinkson Creek and Flat Branch Creek are the most at-risk waterways in the area.

#8 – DeKalb County, Georgia ($1.35B)

Sometimes it takes a federal court order, hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and 80 tons of debris to force a sewer cleanup. Such is the case in DeKalb County, which is under a federal court order to reduce sewage spills by mid-2020. The $1.35 billion cost will be spread out across the tax base during the next decade.

omaha spring lake park sewer project
Workers remove trees from Omaha’s Spring Lake Park. Source: Clean Solutions for Omaha

#7 – Omaha ($2B)

Clean Solutions Omaha (CSO) has a success story on its hands: Spring Lake Park had its lake drained decades ago, but it has recently reappeared as Omaha continues a sewer project that will last until 2027. CSO seeks to eliminate 52 annual sewage overflows into the Missouri River and Papillion Creek.

#6 – Washington, D.C. ($2.6B)

The Clean Rivers Project includes a new 13-mile tunnel network. A $580-million contract for a five-mile chunk of that network was just awarded. It’s due to be completed in 2023 and should eliminate combined sewer overflow into the Anacostia River.

# 5 – San Francisco ($2.9B)

Known for cable cars, June gloom, Dirty Harry, the Golden Gate and earthquakes, it’s that last one that adds an extra challenge to San Francisco’s 20-year sewer project. The Sewer System Improvement Program (SSIP) is moving forward on 70 grey and green water infrastructure projects so San Franciscans feel better about taking a SSIP from their tap water.

#4 – Cleveland ($3B)

Over the next 19 years, Project Clean Lake will include 21 miles of tunnels under the city and surrounding suburbs. According to James F. McCarty at The Plain Dealer: “The tunnel system will remove about 98 percent of all the polluted stormwater and raw sewage that now flows untreated each year into Lake Erie and its tributaries.”

#3 – Chicago ($4B)

The Chicago Tribune estimates that sewage and runoff flowed into the Chicago River once every six days in 2016. The Deep Tunnel being built by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District is supposed to address such overflows. But construction started in the mid-1970s and isn’t scheduled for completion until 2029.

#2 – St. Louis ($4.7B)

MSD Project Clear aims to spend $4.7 billion over the next 23 years to “improve water quality and alleviate many wastewater concerns in the St. Louis region.” The project is a finalist to receive a $43 million competitive water infrastructure loan from the EPA.

9 sewer megaprojects
Proposed route of London’s Thames Tideway Tunnel. Source:

#1 – London, England ($5.54B)

Sewer megaprojects aren’t restricted to the U.S. London public works is currently at work on a new 16-mile “super sewer.” In an effort to stem raw sewage dumping into the Thames, the work is scheduled for completion in 2023.

Worth the Investment

Why spend billions on sewer projects? Perhaps retiring Geneva, Illinois, Wastewater Superintendent Gary Hydinger put it best in a Star Beacon interview: “People need to remember that the water we have today is the same as when the earth was created. Water is recycled and condenses, but it’s the same water as aeons ago  — they don’t make any new water. If we are not good stewards of this precious resource and aid in keeping it clean and continuing the recycling process that’s been happening for millions of years, we will perish.”

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