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Central Ohio Group Issues

This article was submitted for the May / June 2005  issue of the newsletter.


By , Sierra Club Water Quality Coordinator, Columbus

The Columbus Division of Sewerage and Drainage (DOSD) is required by judicial consent orders to submit extensive planning documents to Ohio EPA on July 1, 2005. The Sierra Club is advocating to stop discharges of full strength sanitary sewage and reduce discharges of dilute untreated sewage.

Overflows occur commonly. In January of 2005, DOSD reported 154 sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) of undiluted untreated sewage. Two overflows were reported in Berliner Park on “various dates between Jan. 3 and Jan. 14”. Berliner Park is one of the largest softball facilities in the country. Ball diamonds were flooded by raw sewage and storm water, which surged across Route 71 and shut the highway. DOSD gave no total for number of overflows, locations of manholes, or volumes of raw sewage discharged. Nor was there any public explanation of how and why raw sewage sludge appeared inches deep on fields where children hope to play ball. The public needs to know how planned construction will prevent future incidents like this.

The City has not provided specific plans, but the price tag is rising. Estimates which started at $1 billion have climbed to $2-3 billion. Consultants are analyzing effects of rate increases, but there are no specific proposals to reduce impacts on citizens most sensitive to rate hikes.

On March 2 DOSD held the second of three public meetings to inform citizens of the city’s upgrade plans and to ask for public input. Three public meetings are all that Ohio EPA has required of DOSD in a year of planning, and OEPA has not required the city to incorporate any public suggestions into their plans. The Sierra Club has the following concerns that the city must more fully address:

  • Expand and enhance treatment plants; explore adding another. Increasing Columbus’ capacity to fully treat sewage is key. Although larger pipes to carry and store it can help, lack of capacity to fully treat sewage and dispose of the resulting solids is a major constraint.

  • Design for full treatment alternatives, not “blending” or “high rate treatment”. Blending relies on dumping of partially treated sewage. It has not been approved by the state or federal government and should not be (see article “Blending Updates” in this Ohio Sierran).

  • Stop overflows of raw sewage and backups into basements caused by lack of capacity. Reduce overflows of dilute sewage and bypasses around the treatment plants.

  • Separate storm water out of the combined sewer system.

  • Build public information, input, and involvement. Create a central DOSD library for document access and information requests. Post more information on the DOSD website. Include consistent, meaningful public participation throughout the planning process.

  • Collect data necessary for accurate planning to stop sewage overflows and systemic basement sewage backups. Make information available to the public on sewage overflow and bypass occurrence, location, and volume. Design for zero overflows of raw undiluted sanitary sewage. Quantify progress on management and cleaning of the sewer system.

  • Collect good information on water and biological quality of area streams and rivers where sewage is discharged. This means collecting data at the most polluted sites and at critical times, not arbitrarily as the City is doing now. All information should be freely available to the public.

  • Provide better technical information for external review and make it accessible.

  • Improve and strengthen suggested changes to the Fats, Oils, and Grease control program. Incorporate all changes in the Columbus City Code and clarify definitions. Decrease existing limits on grease discharge. Broaden enforcement from restaurants to any facility that discharges significant grease.

  • Create specific programs to lessen financial impacts on low-income ratepayers.

COG response to city: Read the Sierra Club’s response to Columbus’ March 2 proposals for upgrading the city’s sewer system.

Volunteers are needed for several projects, including database entry. Contact .

COG Chair’s note: In spending up to $3 billion, the most important component, increasing sewage treatment capacity, is not addressed in an adequate way. The greater part of the money is being spent on a system of enormous conduits. This would serve the city’s plans for expansion by creating the means to bring more waste from expanding suburbs. More waste, combined with a lack of treatment capacity, would seriously compound the problem.

Take Action!

7:30 pm-9 pm, Mon., May 23
Lawrence Black Auditorium at the Columbus Main Library
96 S. Grant Ave.

Attention basement sewage backup sufferers! Come to the Basement Sewage Forum. Everyone is invited to attend our first Sierra Club meeting for sewage-in-basement sufferers, but attendance is particularly important if you have had this experience. Bring your neighbors who have had sewage backups!


The Ohio Sierra Club is looking for volunteers to help enter database information on sewage in basement victims and public comments on the Wayne National Forest management plan. We are looking for people who can volunteer during regular business hours at our downtown office located at 36 W. Gay St. Contact .


Contribute to the

We have a generous donor who will again match all donations up to a total of $2000 in 2005.  Last fall Columbus passed a water and sewer rate increase that raises the average bill by about $40 per year. The Sierra Club is working to see that our ratepayer dollars are spent in an economic and environmentally beneficial manner. Please help by writing a tax-deductible check to the Sierra Club Foundation. Mail it to:

Sierra Club Treasurer
6760 Hayhurst St.
Worthington, OH 43085.

Ball diamonds were flooded by raw sewage and storm water, which surged across Route 71 and shut the highway.
The Sierra Club is advocating to stop discharges of full strength sanitary sewage and reduce discharges of dilute untreated sewage.

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