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Hamilton County wants feedback on draft plan to reduce sewer overflows

A pipe in a concrete wall overflowing with brown water into a creek below
Becca Costello
A combination of stormwater and untreated sewage overflows from the MSD system into the Mill Creek in April 2024.

Hamilton County officials are collecting public feedback on Phase 2B of a court-ordered plan to reduce how much untreated sewage and stormwater overflows into waterways during heavy rain events. Written comments will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on June 6.

A six-page summary of the plan is available on the county website (also embedded below); a public hearing on May 23 included a presentation of the plan, which you can watch online at this link. No members of the public spoke during the hearing.

See the full summary below (article continues after):

The plan includes construction of a high rate treatment plant (HRT) at the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati's Little Miami Wastewater Treatment Plant. HRTs are smaller facilities that only operate during wet weather. Smaller projects in the plan would prepare for HRTs at two other treatment plants: Mill Creek and Muddy Creek.

"This 10 Year Plan is estimated to require rate increases, but as we've heard loud and clear from the board, we have attempted to keep those as low as possible," said Assistant County Administrator Holly Christmannn.

Phase 2B is expected to cost $1.82 billion with the goal of completing all projects within 10 years, from 2025 to 2035.

A final plan is due to federal regulators for approval by June 30.

Understand the context

Cincinnati has a combined sewer system, where sanitary sewage from homes and businesses flows through the same pipes as stormwater runoff. During a heavy rain event, the system can get overwhelmed with more flow than it can handle, causing what's called a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO): the release of untreated sewage and stormwater into waterways like the Mill Creek.

RELATED: MSD gives first update in 3 years on work to reduce how much raw sewage ends up in waterways

These CSOs mean MSD is not in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act; a couple decades ago, a lawsuit from the EPA and local chapter of the Sierra Club prompted a federal consent decree, basically a plan for MSD to come into compliance.

A tug of war between Hamilton County and city of Cincinnati officials over who controls MSD has delayed progress.

The county owns the sewer district, and the commissioners set the budget for the agency. The city operates the utility and claims ownership of the assets that it brought to the district when it was established in 1968.

That 50-year agreement expired in 2018, but a federal judge ordered it remain in place until a replacement arrangement is agreed to, but so far that has not happened.

Phase 2 work was meant to begin four and a half years ago; a Phase 2A plan approved last year includes only five projects to be completed by the end of 2024.

Six or seven billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater overflows each year, down from about 14 billion gallons a year before the consent decree work began. The Phase 2B plan is expected to prevent another 1.46 billion gallons of overflow per year.

The plan for Phase 2B is due to federal regulators by June 30. At least a few more phases are expected after that before MSD comes into full compliance with federal law.

How to give feedback

Written comments can be emailed to: by 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, June 6.

RELATED: How MSD plans to turn sewage into renewable energy

A public hearing is took place during the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners regular meeting on Thursday, May 23.

Updated: May 31, 2024 at 4:47 PM EDT
This article was originally published May 22 and has been updated.
Corrected: May 23, 2024 at 8:44 AM EDT
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the number of High Rate Treatment (HRT) plants in Phase 2B.
Local Government Reporter with a particular focus on Cincinnati; experienced journalist in public radio and television throughout the Midwest. Enthusiastic about: civic engagement, public libraries, and urban planning.