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Release Date: 02/15/2002
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FEBRUARY 15, 2002 EPA Region 5 (312) 353-6218
WWW.USDOJ.GOV EPA HQ (202) 564-7818


Sewer district could spend more than $450 million to fix antiquated sewer discharge pipes

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Justice Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the State of Ohio today announced a partial settlement with the Board of Commissioners of Hamilton County and the City of Cincinnati that will eliminate long-standing and significant sewage discharges from its sanitary sewer system. Under the settlement, the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) could spend upwards of $450 million toward eliminating these discharges. This decree will result in approximately100 million gallons of raw sewage discharges eliminated annually.

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 back-up into basements, damage property and threaten public health.

“The Justice Department is committed to enforcing our nation's clean water laws to protect human health and the environment with the highest water quality standards," said Attorney General John Ashcroft. "We are pleased the State of Ohio joined us as plaintiffs in this settlement, as it will go a long way toward improving the health of the Ohio River and its tributaries in the Cincinnati area.”

“Sanitary sewer overflows are a chronic and growing problem in the country, and pose a severe risk to public health and the environment. Communities must find problems in their sewer systems, and fix or upgrade them to reduce or eliminate SSOs. I’m confident that this settlement will do just that for the citizens of Hamilton County and City of Cincinnati,” said EPA Administrator Christie Todd Whitman.

For years, the city and county have discharged untreated sewage when it rains through overflow pipes, or sanitary sewer outfalls, including some that were constructed long ago in MSD’s aging sanitary sewer system. Discharges from these outfalls are illegal under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Today’s partial settlement will make important progress toward eliminating the city and county’s SSO violations. However, the settlement does not address the city and county’s other extensive problems with overflows from sewers that carry both sewage and stormwater, known as combined sewer overflows (CSOs). Neither does it resolve the United States’ and the State of Ohio’s claims for civil penalties due to all the City and County’s CWA violations. The parties have agreed to continue negotiations to resolve these issues as soon as the partial settlement is approved by the court.

Specifically, the settlement puts the city and county on an enforceable schedule to construct major capital
improvement projects, estimated to cost $43 million, to eliminate the worst of their SSOs. Most of these projects will
be completed in the next three to five years. However, Cincinnati’s worst and most prolific SSO, SSO 700, will
require significantly more time and money to fix.

Currently, MSD is evaluating building a large, deep tunnel with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood
control. The tunnel under consideration would be more than 16 miles long, 30 feet in diameter, and 300 feet deep
and would end the area’s chronic flooding problems. It would also help eliminate significant overflow problems that
MSD is experiencing from its combined sewers. In turn, the combined sewers could then be used to store and carry
excess sewage that is frequently discharged from SSO 700 when it rains, thus eliminating these SSO 700 overflows.
MSD’s share of the costs of building the tunnel and related sewer pipes to eliminate this one SSO could amount to an
estimated $210 - 410 million.

Because the tunnel and other fixes being contemplated for SSO 700 could take until 2016 or longer to build,
the settlement requires the defendants to build a $10 - 15 million interim treatment facility at this outfall to reduce the
environmental impact from SSO 700 while the final measures are being planned and built.

Finally, the agreement requires the defendants to thoroughly assess their sewer system, using sophisticated models to determine the current and future capacity. Once the sewer assessment is completed, which itself will cost over $14 million, the city and county must develop a comprehensive plan for projects to eliminate all the rest of their SSOs and provide adequate capacity for the future. There is currently no estimate as to how much more the city and county will have to spend on these additional projects.

The Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) is a department of the City of Cincinnati. The District serves more than 800,000 customers throughout Cincinnati and Hamilton County and operates seven major wastewater treatment plants. Over 200,000 separate sewer connections tie into MSD's 3,000-plus miles of sanitary and combined sewers.

"We are pleased to be able to resolve this matter for the good of the environment and the health of residents in Cincinnati and Hamilton County," Ohio Attorney General Betty D. Montgomery said. "It's important that we now focus our energies on reaching a resolution on the remaining issues relating to the operation of MSD."

"For years, Cincinnati has struggled to address environmentally damaging sewer overflows," said Ohio EPA Director Christopher Jones. "This settlement will change that course, as a result of a cooperative effort between state, local and federal agencies to clean Cincinnati's waterways."

The Justice Department and the federal EPA, often joined by the States, are taking an active lead in municipal CWA enforcement across the country. The United States has already entered into CWA settlements with numerous municipalities, including Atlanta, Baton Rouge, Boston, Honolulu, Jefferson County, Ala., Miami, Mobile, Ala., New Orleans and San Diego.

The settlement was lodged in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Ohio and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

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