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Central Ohio Group Issues

This article was submitted for the May/June 2002 issue of the Ohio Sierran.

Sierra Club Announces Intent to Sue Columbus for Illegal Sanitary Sewer Overflows

By

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 Water Act.

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 these backups.

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.

Index to articles on the Columbus sewers issue.

SSOs are instances where raw, untreated sewage (combined with industrial effluents) spill from the sewage system...
Thirty years after this conduct was first outlawed, Columbus still maintains hundreds of illegal sanitary sewer overflows.

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