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Central Ohio Group Issues

This was published in the July 2003 issue of the Ohio Sierran

US EPA Rejects Columbus’ Areawide Water Quality Management Plan

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In a letter to Ohio EPA dated May 21, 2003, the US EPA rejected the Ohio EPA/Columbus plan for sewer and water development in the Central Ohio area. Harlan Hirt, Manager of WQM [Water Quality Management] Planning for US EPA Region V, who wrote the letter of determination, also ordered the City and Ohio EPA to review and address the concerns of both concerned citizens and the US EPA. Hirt noted in his letter that he would be continuing to review comments made by the Sierra Club. Hirt’s determination was a big victory for the environment.

An areawide WQM plan is supposed to include comprehensive planning for sewage treatment, septic and storm water management, and prevention of contamination of Waters of the State. Ohio EPA had been designated as the planning agency responsible for the update, and in that sense it co-authored the plan with Columbus.

The US EPA pointed to inaccurate, inconsistent and incomplete information in nine specified components of the plan. US EPA stated, "Based upon the material provided, it is difficult to understand how a process that does not reach finite decisions in a certified WQM plan could be acceptable. Review of this WQM plan again raises the issue of what control OEPA has over the discharges of failed septic…(systems). USEPA does not agree...that OEPA has no regulating authority (over septic systems).

US EPA noted that information on effluent (sewage and pollutant overflow) limitations, future population growth, green way development, sludge management, stormwater, and wetlands protection is incomplete or non-existent in the plan.

The Central Ohio Sierra Club and Prairie Township provided extensive comments on the plan to US EPA. Pat Marida and Jeff Cox, who each provided Hirt with comments, noted that adequate public input was not sought for the plan. They also warned that the plan did not address sewage treatment issues, which have been the subject of ongoing legal actions in Columbus. The rejection of the OEPA/Columbus plan underscores the Club's long-standing argument that a real, comprehensive plan must be in place in Columbus to deal with quality-of-life issues – green space, stream and wetlands protection, planning for development, and sewage and stormwater management.

Townships complained that the OEPA/Columbus plan did little more than give the city authority to extend its sewage treatment area.

The Club is arguing that a genuine areawide planning agency, responsible to the pubic, should be formulating this plan. OEPA became the “planning agency” by default because Columbus refused to work with outlying jurisdictions. OEPA does not have the staff, time or structure to do this big job.
The Sierra Club has brought legal actions against Columbus for its illegal discharges of raw, untreated sewage, including 3 billion gallons of sewage bypassed each year from Columbus' two treatment plants, and over 10,000 reported basement sewage backups in the last 5 years. According to the rejected plan, Columbus would add 300,000 more residents to its sewage system without expanding its treatment facilities.
 

US EPA rejected the Ohio EPA/Columbus plan for sewer and water development in the Central Ohio
US EPA noted that information on effluent (sewage and pollutant overflow) limitations, future population growth, green way development, sludge management, stormwater, and wetlands protection is incomplete or non-existent in the plan.

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