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The Justice Department, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the State of Ohio and the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) today announced a final settlement with the Board of Commissioners of Hamilton County and the city of Cincinnati that will end long-standing sewer system violations and address raw sewage backing up into residents' basements.
Under this settlement and a previous partial settlement lodged with the Court in February 2002, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) is expected to spend more than a billion dollars to bring its aging sewer system into compliance with the Clean Water Act and other pertinent laws and regulations.
For years, the city and county have discharged untreated sewage when it rains through overflow pipes from its sanitary sewers, or sanitary sewer outfalls, including some that were constructed long ago in MSD's aging sanitary sewer system. Under the Clean Water Act (CWA), it is illegal to discharge untreated wastewater from sanitary sewers. EPA estimates that there are at least 40,000 sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) nationally each year. The untreated sewage from these overflows can contaminate waters with bacteria, pathogens and other harmful pollutants, causing serious water quality problems. It can also backup into basements, damage property and threaten public health.
MSD has also caused significant additional pollution of the Ohio River and local streams from combined sewer overflows (CSOs). Significant portions of Cincinnati's sewer collection system (like those of many older cities) are "combined systems." That is, the system accepts not only sewage but also stormwater when it rains. When the combined sewers get too full, they overflow. Cincinnati's CSOs discharge an estimated six billion gallons of untreated sewage mixed with rainwater each year. Although defendants have a permit for their CSOs, the plaintiffs complaint alleges that defendants' discharges do not comply with the permit's terms.
Inadequate capacity in MSD's system has not only caused improper discharges into local waterways, but of even greater concern are the many releases of untreated sewage that have occurred into people's basements and yards. These sewage releases are dangerous to the health of people who come into contact with the waste, and Cincinnati residents have spent large amounts of money to clean up their basements and replace ruined furniture and belongings.