Sewage in Stowmwater Outfall

Every time it rains our health is threatened by stormwater runoff. In Franklin County storm water sewers discharge human waste year round without providing warning to the public, putting the health of City of Columbus and Franklin County residents in jeopardy. These discharges contain alarmingly high fecal coliform levels, including Escherichia coli and fecal streptococci. In Franklin County there are hundreds of known stormwater outfall locations that are overflowing and the numbers across Ohio are staggering to think about.

On June 8th, 2011, Sierra Club (Clean Water Campaign) filed a 60-day notice declaring its intent to sue Franklin County and seventeen townships for violations of the Clean Water Act. The suit will remedy illegal discharges of sewage from the County’s storm sewers (View Google map), which are pervasive and rampant in all major Franklin County waterways (Alum Creek, Olentangy River, Big Darby Creek, Scioto River, etc.). The majority of these discharges are the result of failed home septic systems, which have been neglected for decades. Franklin County is not unique as many counties and townships across Ohio are confronting similar septic and stormwater issues.

The County has systematically documented this pollution for years, but little has been done to address it. Some lab samples are thousands of times greater than regulatory health standards. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) recently reviewed Franklin County’s compliance with its storm water permit and identified multiple violations, but the OEPA has yet to seek any penalties, thus prompting the Sierra Club’s June 8th action.

Sewage and surfactants overflowing

Keeping sewage out of our streams is the most basic of government responsibilities. Although the seeds for this problem were sown years ago through accelerated development, it is not something that Franklin County can continue to ignore.  The County has failed to adequately notify residents about the pollution, erect signs warning of discharge locations, or even maintain a reliable complaint tracking system.

Exposure to water contaminated with bacteria or viruses from sewage pollution is a serious public health threat. The U.S. EPA estimates that between 1.8 – 3.5 million cases of illness occur each year from coming into contact with waters contaminated by sewage. Viruses like Hepatitis A and bacteria like Salmonella can be contracted by people exposed to sewage.

This lawsuit is the only way we can be sure that Franklin County will properly clean up the sewage in our streams. This is the water that we play in, swim in, fish in, bathe in, drink and is essential to the quality of life in Franklin County.

The Sierra Club’s suit will seek a federal court injunction to impose an enforceable timetable for the County to eliminate the illegal discharges and require prompt compliance with all permit requirements. Including civil penalties for the Clean Water Act violations that have occurred over the past five years. We are requesting that the county create a simple way for citizens to report discharges which would include a system for tracking complaints as well as a notification system as required by the Clean Water Act. The Sierra Club will continue to advocate that regional planning occur on a watershed basis and monitoring of our waterways for harmful pollutants be expanded.

Sewage in Outfall

This is an opportunity for Franklin County to invest into green solutions such as wet basins, dry basins, sand filters, bioswales, and rain gardens. It is time we rethink how we address stormwater issues across the state. We all live downstream.