Lake Erie provides drinking water for 11 million people — 3 million of them in Ohio, including 1.4 million in Cleveland.

The Cleveland Water Department pumps water throughout Cuyahoga County and parts of five other counties, from four separate treatment plants, each with its own intake crib in Lake Erie.

(The 5-mile crib is the only one visible above water; it’s 3.5 miles from the Cleveland shoreline but 5 miles from the Kirtland Pump Station, which then pushes it to the Baldwin treatment plant near University Circle.)

“We are water rich here,” said Water Commissioner Alex Margevicius. “We’re blessed to be on Lake Erie.”

The department began in 1856, with a pump station at West 45th Street. The city didn’t treat the water until cholera and typhoid broke out at the turn of the 20th century.

The city built its first filtration plant, the Garrett A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant, in 1916 and extended the intake crib miles farther into the lake to get away from pollution near shore. Workers digging the tunnel hit a gas pocket on July 24, 1916, and were trapped until Garrett A. Morgan and his brother used Morgan’s newly invented gas mask to rescue them.

Now the Morgan plant is seven red brick buildings you can see from the Shoreway, with $177 million in renovation between 2001 and 2012.

The plant, with 32 employees, is fully automated and can be run from a single control room. It pushes it raw lake water and over about 16 hours, transforms it to pristine drinking water, through cleaning processes and chemicals that can often be found in your home.

Cleveland Water is armed with monitoring technology and prepared to deal with toxic algae and dead zone.

“We don’t take algae for granted,” Margevicius said. “We are constantly on alert, but highly confident our treatment plan could remove it.”

Zebra and quagga mussels aren’t a real concern, since the mussels grow only about 6 inches thick on the 7- and 9-foot-wide tunnels. (Every few years officials send down a scuba diver to vacuum up the shells.)

From every stage of treatment, water samples are piped into a laboratory, where workers can test it.

Workers taste-test the water every day. “We’re kind of paranoid,” said plant manager Gerald Kinzel.

How does the plant clean and purify Lake Erie water? RocktheLake toured the Morgan plant to show how Lake Erie becomes drinking water.

Take a look at the video above.

Here are the basic steps, from Cleveland Water project coordinator Brenda Culler:

  1. Intake cribe, which has the first screens to remove larger debris like tree limbs and tires
  2. 7- and 9-foot intake pipes from the crib to the raw water pump building.
  3. Raw water pumps push water into water treatment plants
  4. Potassium permanganate is the first chemical added to control taste and odors, oxidize metals, and reduce the required amount of chlorine needed later.
  5. Powdered activated carbon added to control taste and odors.
  6. Travelling screens remove fish, shells, small rocks, etc.
  7. Alum is added, to clump sediment together 
  8. Water is rapidly mixed.
  9. Water flows slowly through flocculation tanks, allowing particles to clump together, in flecks called floc.
  10. Floc settles out in the settling basin, and resulting sediment is eventually sent to the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District
  11. Chlorine bleach is added.
  12. Water is pumped into the concrete filtration chambers, where it’s filtered through 2 feet of coal and 1 foot of sand.
  13. Chemicals are added: bleach, orthophosphate to inhibit corrosion of plumbing fixtures and to keep lead from leaching out of people’s pipes, and fluoride.
  14. Water takes eight hours to flow through the finished water reservoir.
  15. Primary pumps at the end of the treatment process are first in a series of pumps, tanks, towers and mains that push water out to customers’ homes.

Want to learn more about Cleveland Water? Attend the open house on May 12 at the Morgan plant.