COLUMBUS - Pressured by the threat of a Sierra Club
lawsuit, the City of Columbus agreed on Monday to reduce its illegal practice of
discharging sewage into local waterways. In an apparent attempt to avoid the
Sierra Club's Clean Water Act suit, the City reached an agreement with the Ohio
EPA to pay a civil penalty of $250,000 for violations and pledged an additional
$250,000 towards environmentally beneficial projects. In addition, the City
agreed to improve its practices to reduce the amount of sewage that is
discharged into rivers and streams.
"It's unfortunate that it takes the threat of a
lawsuit to remove sewage from our water, but apparently that's what it takes to
make the Ohio EPA take action," said Pat Marida, Chair of the Central Ohio
Sierra Club. "The fact that the Ohio EPA has made this agreement with
Columbus in such a short time is an effort to avoid citizen participation, and
is astonishing. After 30 years of violations, a plan to spend $1/2 billion has
been arrived at in a matter of a couple of months."
The sewer system in Columbus, Ohio has been overflowing
regularly for over 30 years. As a result, millions of gallons of raw sewage
containing high levels of fecal coliform bacteria, toxic industrial waste, and
other pollutants discharge to the Scioto River and Olentangy River in downtown
Columbus, as well as numerous other waterways. Before Monday's agreement, the
city regularly discharged raw sewage from at least 120 separate locations,
without a Clean Water Act permit. Within the last 5 years, raw sewage has backed
up into the basements of 10,000 Columbus residents.
The Sierra Club's review of the city's records shows that
over the last six years Columbus has dumped an average of 2. 9 BILLION gallons
of sewage per year as bypasses from its sewage treatment plants. That is in
addition to pollution from the numbered and un-numbered sanitary sewer
"Apart from raw sewage in your house being
sickening, it's a danger to your health and your children's health," said
Marida. Given the reluctance of both the City of Columbus and the Ohio EPA to
protect public health before the threat of our lawsuit, we remain skeptical. We
reserve the right to continue to enforce the Clean Water Act if this agreement
is unsatisfactory from the public viewpoint. This morning we learned that the
city's agreement with Ohio EPA is still in draft form, so City Council voted on
a measure that has not yet been completed."
Columbus' recent capital improvement dollars have mostly
been spent building new sewers, which fuels unplanned sprawl and increases the
burden on a system already over capacity, while routine maintenance and repairs
of overflows and basement backups have been lacking.
"Despite Columbus' statements that it is a national
leader, through our records search we have discovered that Columbus has 5 times
the number of sewer overflows as the average utility, said Jeff Cox, Sierra Club
member and former Columbus sewer employee. "Exemplary utilities do not
operate under consent decrees, nor are they assessed fines."
Sierra Club activists have been working to address the
problems plaguing the Columbus sewer system, and other overburdened sewer
systems in the state. Before resorting to a Clean Water Act lawsuit, Sierra Club
members tried to improve the Columbus sewer system by testifying at hearings,
attempting to get input into the Columbus Stormwater Master Plan, opposing
proposed annexations and rezonings that would increase sewer system hook-ups,
and opposing proposed development in floodplain areas.
to articles on the Columbus sewers issue.