Storm water drama in Cincinnati

After 4 years of ignoring rising dissatisfaction with very regressive, drinking-water based, sewer charges for financing the MSD storm water infrastructure improvements being forced by a federal Consent Decree, the Hamilton County Commissioners created the Impervious Surface Fee Agency Task Force. Five meetings later, the Task Force and hired consultants gave a presentation on Sept 23 to “stakeholders” many of whom should be paying significant storm water fees. The presenters described the unwieldy collection of municipal or township entities that play some role in storm water management and collect fees, none of which help fund MSD Consent Decree projects. The mandate of the task force was to “develop an impervious surface fee structure for all parcels contributing rain derived inflow to MSD system” presumably to reduce sewer charges based on drinking water usage. Unfortunately there appears to be no requirement that a major part of Consent Decree costs be covered by new storm water fees. There is no stated goal of creating a regional watershed management system. The definition of “impervious” is narrowly defined as pavements and buildings: there is no acknowledgement that peak storm water flows arise after days of sustained rain when pervious surfaces (lawns, parks,…) become saturated and most rain water runs-off. That’s when combined sewers overflow (CSOs), basements backup and some areas flood. Finally and very related, the Task Force seems very unwilling to calculate storm water fees based in part on total property areas, a more appropriate basis than “impervious surface.” Properly accounting for peak storm water generation would result in a large redistribution of sewer charges away from those currently paying way more than their fair share. The Fair Sewer Rates Coalition and the people of Cincinnati have their work cut out for them in forcing adoption of an acceptable sewer rate structure to fund the improvement we need. The Miami Group of Sierra Club, and now Ohio Citizen Action, are supporters of this effort addressing a problem that is irritating to many residents.

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