Clean up our Ohio River

Ohio River Plastic Pollution 1 - Nancy Ball

On Earth Day, American Rivers named the Ohio River as one of the most endangered rivers in the country. Millions rely on the Ohio River for drinking water, industries rely on it to carry away waste, farming operations release huge amounts of fertilizers, and waste water treatment plants discharge billions of gallons of untreated sewage into the Ohio River and local rivers leading to the Ohio. Adding to this stew is fracking waste and “forever chemicals” that don’t degrade in the environment.

So what is the Miami Group doing about it? One of our biggest initiatives for years has been our work to get rid of sewer overflows that send billions of gallons of waste into Mill Creek, Muddy Creek, Little Miami and the Ohio River, and other smaller tributaries.

So are we making progress? After years of no progress Sierra Club initiated legal action that led to a Consent Decree between Hamilton County, Cincinnati, Metropolitan Sewer District and EPA. Between 2010 and 2018, Hamilton County and Cincinnati’s projects lead to reductions in overflows but much remains to be done.

As the first Phase of the Consent Decree was nearing completion, a Phase II plan was to be submitted to US EPA by mid-2017 and work on Phase II was to begin in January 2019. Disagreements and lack of cooperation between the city and county lead to a request for an extension of the 2017 deadline. That was followed by more litigation, a group of bridge projects, some of which still aren’t complete (all were due by the end of 2020.) The ongoing disputes and lack of a Phase II plan lead the US EPA to impose a Phase II plan based on the city and county’s prior proposals. More litigation followed, and the court ruled that the County would be the agency to submit the Phase II plan, which US EPA began reviewing and negotiations are still ongoing.

In the meantime, little consent decree-related work has been accomplished. The city and county are still not in agreement with the work to be done. The public is cut out of the discussions.

The plan for Phase II needs to get stormwater out of the system in order to stop overflows and bypasses. Sewer overflows that are inundate by high Ohio River levels need to be moved out of the flood plain. Climate change makes this work even more imperative. Big storms will worsen overflows, despite how much money is spent on treatment plants and bigger pipes. And basements will still get backed up with sewage. The city and county will continue as chronic violators of the Clean Water Act.

Additionally, the sewer districts rate structure needs to be changed to be fair and equitable. Rates will go up – the work needs to be done. No progress has been made on this in the last six months although we are expecting a meeting in July with community members and the sewer district and the county.

We continue to seek resolution of the ongoing disputes between the city and county. We need one entity running the district not two that have no means of resolving disputes. We need decisions by EPA to resolve this matter with community input.

Potentially, more stormwater separation will become part of the I-75 widening and the Brent Spence Bridge. We have been urging the city and county to make sure this work doesn’t increase sewer overflows.

While one can expect some negotiations between parties, the delays have gone on for too long. Our community is harmed by the delay and the expense only increases.

We call on the city and county to finish the consent decree work in the next 10 years, to make rates equitable, provide more relief for low-income residents, eliminate discounts going to industries that use large volumes of water, establish an impervious surface fee, separate more stormwater from the system, especially using green infrastructure to achieve the consent decree requirements. Right now, we’re just wasting time and money endlessly debating what to do.

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