On March 28 the Sierra Club filed
a Notice of Intent to Sue the City of Columbus over
illegal raw sewage discharges from sanitary sewer
overflows (SSOs) to the Scioto River, the Olentangy
River, and other area creeks and streams. The suit
alleges that Columbus has for more than a decade
illegally discharged raw sewage to these waterways
through sanitary sewer overflows, causing serious water
pollution and potentially endangering the health and
safety of Columbus area residents.
SSOs are instances where raw,
untreated sewage (combined with industrial effluents)
spill from the sewage system through manholes, pump
stations, breaks in sewer lines or from overflow valves.
Since 1972, SSOs have been illegal, being a violation of
the federal Clean Water Act.
Thirty years after this conduct
was first outlawed, Columbus still maintains hundreds of
illegal sanitary sewer overflows. The federal courts can
assess civil penalties of $25,000 per day for each day
of overflow, from each SSO, for the past 5 years. This
alone could result in fines of over $4 million. The City
has also documented raw sewage backups on public and
private property, which are violations of its federal
NPDES permits and federal regulations under the Clean
During the past 10 years Columbus
has greatly expanded its sewers, thereby causing more
overflows, instead of correcting bad sewers.
On March 28 the Sierra Club
issued a press release and held a press conference by
the Scioto River, where an enormous combined sewer
overflow pipe empties. A large sign warns of possible
unsanitary conditions. As Central Ohio Group Chair, I
made the announcement of the Club’s intentions.
Columbus homeowner Nancy Heath talked about raw sewage
backups in her basement, as often as twice a year for
over 20 years. The media was very interested in Nancy’s
story. We got a good deal of coverage on radio, TV and
in print. Since that time, several homeowners have
contacted us to say that Columbus always refuses claims
for damages from such incidents. Residents are footing
enormous bills and have experienced ill health from
In its legal action, the Sierra
Club will seek a federal court order that provides a
long-term solution to illegal SSOs, including an
enforceable compliance schedule and definite funding
commitments; a Citizen Oversight and Technical advisory
committee to review SSO elimination plans; and payment
of civil penalties for the past 5 years of SSO
violations, in order to deter future violations.
to articles on the Columbus sewers issue.
SSOs are instances where raw, untreated sewage
(combined with industrial effluents) spill from the