Cincinnati MSD sustainability efforts getting national attention

It has been 30 years since the federal government called for the elimination of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) and a reduction of discharges from combined sewer overflows (CSOs) through the Clean Water Act.  Many cities are still trying to solve their SSO and CSO problems, but Cincinnati's efforts are fairly unique among other municipalities.

The crux of the issue in Cincinnati deals with combined sewer overflows - when a pipe carrying both solid waste (what goes down your toilet) and excess water runoff is overflowed by heavy rainfall.  The rainfall causes the two elements to mix, resulting in solid waste flowing in local waterways that provide our drinking water, and where our wildlife and ecosystem survives. 

There are a couple ways to go about solving this problem, with many communities taking the concrete solution of building additional, separate pipes for the two different elements.  Cincinnati's problem, primarily along the Mill Creek Corridor, is one that local officials are looking to solve with a green solution - one that is getting noticed nationwide.

Cincinnati officials contend that if you reduce the amount of stormwater runoff, you will reduce or eliminate the overflows in the existing network.  As a result, engineers and planners are examining how this might be done through rain gardens, wetlands, green roofs and other green solutions along the Mill Creek Corridor.  A tangible example of this is the new Wastewater Engineering Center that MSD has built in Lower Price Hill along the Mill Creek Corridor, that includes the latest green building techniques.

The payoff is potentially huge both financially and environmentally.  Environmentalists have longed for the reclamation of the Mill Creek Corridor which is already underway through efforts like the Mill Creek Restoration Project, Revive I-75 Vision Plan and the GO Cincinnati report which recommends an economic future of green businesses and industries along the corridor.

In spring 2007, Cincinnati City Council even passed a motion requiring Municipal Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) to form a test project that would determine the effectiveness of such green strategies in reducing stormwater runoff in an urban setting, with the ultimate goal of reducing the volume of stormwater going into sewer pipes and reducing overflows.

Cincinnati MSD is currently working on a sustainable infrastructure plan with the help of Denver-based engineering firm CH2M HILL.  The plan is still in the preliminary stages, but officials hope to make significant progress on the development of the plan over the next six months.  The ambitious, trail blazing plan is one that will certainly not be easy, but it may turn out to be the most progressive solution to solving the CSO problems that the majority of older cities in this country face today.

Writer: Randy A. Simes
Photography by Randy A. Simes
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