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MSD's Sewer Backup Program Running Low On Funds

Tana Weingartner

The Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) has spent all but $1 million of its sewer backup (SBU) program budget for this year. 

A federal consent decree established the program that's designed to address water in customers' basements that backs up from sewers. It focuses on prevention, cleaning and damage claims.

The Hamilton County Commission, which sets the MSD budget, appropriated $9.7 million for the 2020 sewer backup budget. Through Aug. 1, the agency had spent about $8.7 million.

"The two programs that are primarily responsible for the 2020 budget shortfall are the SBU Prevention Program and the SBU Cleaning Program," MSD Director Diana Christy wrote in a memo to county officials. "These two programs have already accumulated a combined total of about $7.2 million in expenditures with projected expenditures for the remaineder of 2020 of nearly $2.6 million."

Christy spoke to commissioners about the SBU budget issues during a meeting earlier this week.

She said through early May, MSD had only spent about $138,000 for cleanings.

"Then we had a big storm around May 18, May 19, that covered a few days," Christy said. "And that event alone led to over $1 million in cleaning costs to respond to those sewer backups."

During the May storm, MSD investigated 722 sewer backups and 316 were deemed eligible for cleanings.

In July, there was another heavy rain event that hit primarily in Oakley and Hyde Park. That storm resulted in 204 complaints and 137 cleanings, which cost about $400,000.

After two or more eligible sewer backups, MSD is required to work with customers to install prevention devices or systems to prevent such backups. 

"We are seeing more frequent large storms, and therefore we continue to have these properties that become eligible for a prevention device installation," Christy said.

So far, MSD has installed 1,160 devices including 61 this year with another 79 in the process of being designed for installation.

The county commissioners have two options for providing additional funds to the SBU program: They could appropriate an additional $2 million for the program, or MSD suggested using $1.6 million that has not been spent on backup claims from a previous year. But some of those funds could be needed to pay claims based on ongoing court proceedings concerning sewer backups during that timeframe.

Commissioners are expected to make a decision sometime in September.

Jay Hanselman brings more than 10 years experience as a news anchor and reporter to 91.7 WVXU. He came to WVXU from WNKU, where he hosted the local broadcast of All Things Considered. Hanselman has been recognized for his reporting by the Kentucky AP Broadcasters Association, the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and the Ohio AP Broadcasters.