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Central Ohio Group Issues

This article was submitted for the July / August 2005  issue of the newsletter.

Update on Central Ohio Sewers Campaign Activities

By , Central Ohio Water Quality Coordinator

Report on the May 23 Central Ohio Sierra Club Basement

Sewage Backup Forum

Read Cyane’s report of our successful public forum “Stopping Basement Backups and Sewage Overflows,” in the accompanying issue of The Ohio Sierran.

July 27, Columbus’ Final Public Meeting on Massive

Sewer Construction

The Columbus Division of Sewerage and Drainage (DOSD) has tentatively scheduled a meeting on Wed., July 27 at 5:30 pm at the Utilities Complex, 910 Dublin Rd. This is the final presentation required under 2 legal agreements (consent orders) Columbus has with Ohio EPA to reduce its overflows from sanitary and combined sewers.  Columbus and Ohio EPA reached the legal agreements after the Sierra Club had threatened lawsuits to stop raw sewage discharges. 

At this meeting, planning documents will be presented for 20-40 year building projects to address sewer overflow problems. The city’s cost estimate has risen to $4.6 billion. The Sierra Club will pressure Columbus to maximize and improve existing facilities, and keep storm water out of the system.  Columbus will propose very expensive large underground storage tunnels. 

The Central Ohio Sierra Club urges you to attend this important meeting, which is open to all.  Please confirm the meeting date 2 weeks in advance by calling DOSD at 614-645-7175 or visiting <> and looking under “News and Public Meetings”. 

July 13, Columbus City Council, Public Utility Committee Meeting 

Councilwoman Patsy Thomas, chair of City Council’s Utilities Committee, chairs regular presentations on utility plans and proposals. These meetings are geared for the public, and people may ask questions. The public also may make statements for up to 3 minutes.  The next meeting is Wed., July 13 at 5:30 pm in Columbus City Council Chambers at City Hall, 90 W. Broad St.  The Sierra Club urges members to attend.  Confirm the date 2 weeks in advance by calling Ms. Thomas’ office at 614-645-8559 or visiting <>.


Reporting and Notification of

Sewage Discharges

Beginning in 2002, Columbus began systematically reporting sewage discharges to the Ohio EPA.  Columbus now reports occurrences of sanitary sewer overflows, combined sewer overflows, treatment plant bypasses, and basement backups.  There is room for improvement in tracking actual volumes discharged.

Columbus is doing a better job of sharing information with the public.  Signs at many outfall pipes warn of potential overflow hazards.  DOSD is starting to post overflow location information on their website <>.  That website now has maps of combined sewer and sanitary sewer overflow points, and some information on volumes discharged.

However, there is still a need for proactive warnings to the public that overflows will or have occurred.  Media is alerted only with a “substantial or widespread threat to public health—a spill of long duration or the potential to impact many people”, such as January 2005 in Berliner Park.  There should be real time alerts on the website when wet weather events are threatening, and definite warnings when they have occurred.  Media announcements of all significant releases would raise awareness and help prevent exposure to pathogens. Many Central Ohio waterways have regular sewage outfalls and are still used by children, dogs, canoeists, people fishing, and others who do not see warning signs of potential dangers.

 Data on Sewage Discharges

Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO) Reports [Reporting is required under the 2002 SSO consent order with Ohio EPA]: There are about 100 SSO points—places where raw sewage can escape from the system. These are also called “designated sewer relief” points. Occurrences and volumes are largely not measured.  Numbers quoted are at best a minimum. In 2003 the city reported 539 overflows from 88 locations, most not measured, most sites only checked weekly. One site spilled over 200 million gallons. In 2004 the city reported 586 overflows from 96 locations. Again, most were not measured, were only checked weekly and one location spilled over 82 million gallons. In Jan. 2005 Columbus reported 154 SSOs from 81 locations. Most sites were only checked weekly and volumes were not reported.

Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) [Reporting is required by the 2005 National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit]: There are 31 combined sewer overflow points—places where sewage combined with storm water can escape from the system.  Twenty of these pipes in the older sections of the city flow directly into local rivers and creeks. See city website at <>.  DOSD only reported overflows from one of these locations before 2005. That one, the Whittier Street Storm Tank Overflow, reported releasing about 2 billion gallons of untreated sewage into the Scioto River in 2004. DOSD is required to start tracking the other 30 in 2005.

Bypasses from the 2 Sewage Treatment Plants [Reporting is required under the 2005 NPDES permit]: The Southerly Treatment Plant reported bypassing over 400 million gallons of raw sewage in 2004 and over 200 million gallons in Jan. 05.  The Jackson Pike Treatment Plant reported bypassing 176 million gallons from its Whittier Street Bypass in 2004, but in January 2005 Whittier Street reported 838 million gallons bypassed.  Plus a recently constructed bypass at the Jackson Pike facility spilled 450 million gallons in Jan. 05.  Reporting requirements changed at the end of 2004.  Note that Jackson Pike reported 176 million gallons of bypass in all of 2004 and then 1.28 billion just for Jan. 05.  Actual number totals for 2004 are likely much higher.

Basement Backups from the City Sewers [Reporting is required under the 2002 SSO Consent Order]:  In 2003 there were 2,841 phone call reports of basement backups. In 2004 there were 3,192 reports from 2,076 addresses. The City claimed responsibility for 23%. Records show clear city responsibility for 27%, with 23% more undetermined. Backups were concentrated in zip codes 43204, 43224, 43211, and 43227. In Jan. 05 there were 1,211 phone call reports from about 883 addresses. The City claimed responsibility for 45%. Records show city responsibility for 36%, with 49% undetermined. Backups were concentrated in zip codes 43227 and 43224.

Reported data on raw sewage discharge is a minimum and the actual total is much higher.  Numbers above show 2.6 billion gallons of raw sewage discharged in 2004 and 2.7 billion reported just for Jan. 05.  If sanitary sewer overflows, combined sewer overflows, and bypasses not reported are considered, the total is surely over 5 billion gallons released in 2004, and over 3 billion gallons in January 2005 alone.

For updated information on the Central Ohio Group’s work on Columbus sewers, or if you would like to assist in our efforts to get Columbus into compliance with the Clean Water Act, contact Cyane at 614-461-0734 x 311 <>. Consider attending Sewer Committee meetings. Dates are listed  under Sierra Club meetings.


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