What’s happening with the sewer consent decree

sewer pipe

On May 23, 2024 Hamilton County held a public hearing on its Phase 2B plan for the Consent Decree. Unfortunately, there was almost no notice of the hearing and no document describing Phase 2B before the hearing. So, here’s the scope on the plan and the kicker.

The county, along with the Metropolitan Sewer District, proposed two bundles of projects, one for the Little Miami Waste Water Treatment Plant and the other for the Mill Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant that included a Brent Spence Bridge project. Total costs for these two bundles, plus “other” (unspecified) and Asset Management projects and “other” (unspecified) total $1.82 billion.

The expectation is that this Phase 2B will reduce overflows by 1.5 billion gallons. The timeline for these projects is 10 years.

Phase 2B’s cost per gallon of overflow reduction is eight times the cost of Phase 1. MSD says Phase 1 reduced about 8 billion gallons of overflow from an original 14 billion gallons. After Phase 2B, there will still be 4.5 billion gallons of untreated sewage going into our rivers and creeks. This calls into question the cost effectiveness of Phase 2B and the choice of projects.

That said, the Little Miami Waste Water Treatment Plant has been bypassing about 1 billion gallons of untreated sewage every year into the Ohio River. Bypassing means the sewage flow doesn’t go through the treatment plant; sewage is allowed to flow directly into the Ohio River.

This problem should have been addressed decades ago!

The Mill Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant Bundle contains two projects which will not result in any reduction in overflow volumes in the next ten years. MSD will need another project to actually make use of the $495 million to be expended in Phase 2B. This project has been estimated to cost somewhere between $277 million and $425 million.

The third project in the Mill Creek Waste Water Treatment Plant Bundle is related to the Brent Spence Bridge and would be the only CSO reduction (142.4 million gallons in a typical year) in the Mill Creek basin in the next 10 years. The interesting thing here is that thje Ohio Department of Transportation may pay for part of this project, reducing the cost by an unknown amount. And despite years of assessing this project, there is still no agreement with ODOT that they will pay for part of the project. The worst case scenario is that ODOT continues to send the stormwater from the Brent Spence Bridge project area to the MSD combined sewers and rate payers continue to bear the full cost of that.

Only one of these projects (Brent Spence Bridge also known as the East Branch Ohio River Interceptor) potentially gets stormwater out of the MSD system. No project addresses area-wide sewer basement backups.

The County must submit their final Phase 2B proposal to US EPA on June 30, 2024. Here are links to key documents.

You can view the MSD presentation on the plan here. Other key documents:

MSD phase 2B plan summary

MSD phase 2B plan overview

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