City And County Are 'Getting There' On Resolving Muddy Creek Dispute

May 12, 2020

A long-awaited project to stop raw sewage from flowing into Muddy Creek in Green Township could clear a major hurdle soon.

The Metropolitan Sewer District's (MSD) Upper Muddy Creek interceptor is old and located in the creek. The pipe has several breaches, and that allows untreated wastewater to flow into Muddy Creek on dry days. The problem becomes even worse during heavy rain events. MSD has said this allows 313 million gallons of untreated sewage to flow into the creek annually. People have even shared pictures on social media of toilet paper hanging in nearby trees.

Now Cincinnati City Council Member Greg Landsman said Tuesday he's cautiously optimistic a solution could be announced in the next two weeks. Hamilton County Commission President Denise Driehaus also believes that is possible.

Agreement on the replacement plan would be a marked change from what's happened in the past. 

MSD has had a plan for several years to construct a 36-inch sewer pipe that would be built out of the creek.

The city, which operates MSD, and Hamilton County, which owns the sewer district and controls its budget, have been locked in a disagreement about the project.

They've been arguing about whether the pipe needs to be replaced or could instead be repaired; the size of the replacement pipe; and whether fixing the upper portion of the interceptor will cause overflow and flooding issues downstream in Muddy Creek and in Sayler Park.

Landsman said the city and county appear to have consensus that the interceptor needs to be replaced with a 36-inch pipe.

The remaining issue is whether the project will cause overflows downstream. City modeling from 2018 suggested there could be some overflows at four manholes during a wet weather event. But now the city has updated modeling that shows those overflows can be eliminated.

The county's MSD monitoring team and hired outside consultants have been asking a series of questions about how that's possible.

Landsman said the "answer is pretty straightforward."

"The data and the modeling changed, the system itself has changed, the technology as it relates to this project, and then this groundwater question," Landsman said. "Because all kinds of other things including upgrades to the system, there's less groundwater getting in (to the sewer system). And there's more technology helping to move it around so there won't be overflows."

In an interview with WVXU, Commissioner Driehaus said she and Landsman and some others had a phone call Tuesday morning on a resolution. She said the two sides "are getting there."

"We (the county) need to have just a little bit more information provided to us," Driehaus said. "Our major concern here is that there's no increase overflow, basically increased flooding downstream related to this project. We're just trying to make sure that that's the case, and when we get that information we can move forward."

Driehaus said the county is trying to get information from MSD on how the data and modeling concerning overflows changed for 2018 to 2020.

"We do not want to, nor can we, approve of a project that creates increased overflows," Driehaus said. "We're just waiting for the information that proves out that this project won't do that."

Driehaus said it's possible a meeting for the city and county officials to discuss the modeling information could happen yet this week.

Driehaus and Landsman are encouraging their teams to move as quickly as possible on the remaining issues.

MSD could also do some patching work on the existing line where some of the major leaks are occurring while work continues on a permanent fix.

The project to fix the Upper Muddy Creek interceptor was a required project under a federal consent decree to stop untreated wastewater from flowing into local streams.  The work was supposed to have been completed by Dec. 31, 2019. It hasn't happened yet, but the city and county could face fines for missing that deadline.