Sewer Overflows and Green Infrastructure

by Joe Bowman, Blue Green Alliance

Miami Group Sierra Club’s Notice of Intent to Sue under the Clean Water Act was instrumental in prodding USEPA to file legal action against the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSDGC), the city of Cincinnati and Hamilton County to correct decades of illegal sewer overflows, treatment plant bypasses of raw sewage, failure to comply with the Ohio EPA’s findings and orders on Sanitary Sewer Overflows, and the failing to develop a plan to control Combined Sewer Overflows.

Sierra Club worked hard to gain improvements to USEPA’s initial “Interim Partial Consent Decree” and federal court Judge Arthur Spiegel declared the decree ‘illusionary’ and required changes to the decree.

One of the most important changes was how MSDGC handled the sewage backups into residential and business basements. MSDGC had considered such backups to be “acts of God” and did nothing to address the problems caused by the MSDGC sysato bring about justice for victims of sewage backups, Sierra Club staffer Katie Danko interviewed residents and with documentarian Barb Wolf made the video MSD’s Hidden Secret: Thirty Years of Raw Sewage Backups.

Sierra Club showed the video to Judge Spiegel who insisted that the final decree include requirements to address this problem. The decree, signed by Judge Spiegel, required MSDGC to prevent backups, clean up basement backups caused by MSDGC and pay damages and pay for remedies. Judge Spiegel’s orders also required MSDGC pay for dimunition in the value of real estate from backups. The Judge also appointed the Legal Aid Society as the Ombudsman to provide the public with an advocate to ensure the Sewage in Basement program is working, investigate complaints and to report back to the Court on the program.

Since the implementation of the “global” consent decree, Sierra Club has continued to work to insure sewer overflows into rivers and basements and streets are fixed as quickly as possible and cost effectively as possible, that the Sewage in Basement Program (formerly called Water in Basement by MSDGC and now called Sewer Backup Program) works, that rates be set so that they are fair and affordable and provide the needed revenue to fix the neglected sewer system.

Sierra Club, as part of the Blue Green Alliance, has worked with residents who live along Kings Run who are affected by sewer overflows and developed a video on this overflow. The video also talks about solutions to sewer overflows, called green infrastructure. You can view the video by clicking here.

Sierra Club also wishes to remember Judge Arthur Spiegel who passed away on December 31, 2014. Judge Spiegel was an extraordinary advocate for victims of sewage overflows and will be greatly missed. His orders led to the first consent decree in the nation forcing such corrections under the Clean Water Act.