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Combined sewers were built to collect sanitary and industrial wastewater, as well as storm water runoff, and transport this combined wastewater to treatment facilities. Flows conveyed to the treatment plant are then treated and discharged to a nearby river or stream.
Ohio EPA no longer permits the installation of combined sewers. For newly installed sewers, sewage and storm water are collected in separate pipes with sewage being transported to a wastewater treatment facility and storm water being transported to nearby surface waters. This type of system is called a separate sewer system.
View an illustration depicting both a combined and a separate sewer system.
During dry weather and small wet weather events (i.e., rainfall and snowmelt), combined sewers are designed to transport all flows to a treatment plant. During larger wet weather events the volume of storm water entering the combined sewer system may exceed the capacity of the combined sewers or the treatment plant. When this happens, combined sewers are designed to allow a portion of the untreated combined wastewater to overflow into the nearest ditch, stream, river or lake. This prevents the rupturing of pipes, backing up of sewage into basements, and/or flooding of streets. The locations where these discharges of untreated combined wastewater occur, as well as the discharge events themselves, are known as Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). CSOs are located at various locations along combined sewers, and are unique to each system.
CSOs contain not only storm water but also untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials and debris. This is a major water pollution concern for cities with combined sewer systems. CSOs are among the major sources responsible for beach closings, shellfishing restrictions, aesthetic impairments and other water body impairments. Additionally, contact with discharges from CSOs can have adverse effects on human health. A December 2001 report to Congress cited the Center for Marine Conservation as stating that, "[s]ome of the common diseases include hepatitis, gastric disorders, dysentery, and swimmer's ear. Other forms of bacteria found in untreated waters can cause typhoid, cholera, and dysentery." (Report to Congress on Implementation and Enforcement of the CSO Control Policy, December 2001, EPA 833-R-01-003)
CSOs are located throughout Ohio. View maps of individual CSO outfall locations organized by community.
CSO outfalls and their receiving waters should be avoided during and immediately after any wet weather event (i.e., rainfall and snowmelt). Additionally, these locations should be avoided any time a discharge is observed from the outfall pipe regardless of weather conditions.
Ohio EPA continues to implement CSO controls through provisions included in National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits and using orders and consent agreements when appropriate. The NPDES permits for our CSO communities require them to implement the nine minimum control measures. Requirements to develop and implement Long-Term Control Plans (LTCPs) are also included where appropriate.
In 2015, U.S. EPA modified their goal for the Water Safe for Swimming Measure, which seeks to address the water quality and human health impacts of CSOs. The goal includes incorporating an implementation schedule of approved projects into an appropriate enforceable mechanism, including a permit or enforcement order, with specific dates and milestones for 92% of the nation's CSO communities by the end of September 2016. As of April 2016, 83 of Ohio's 89 CSO communities meet this definition which equates to 93%.
There are multiple ways in which the general public can help reduce the impacts of CSOs. An initial step is to contact your local wastewater utility to notify them of your interest and obtain information specific to your city or village's program. Some municipalities even implement cost-sharing programs to lower the financial aspect of some measures. Topics to discuss include:
Green Infrastructure (e.g., rain gardens, rain barrels, green roofs, etc.)
The following links will take you to web sites maintained by the given municipality:
Division of Surface Water
Phone: (614) 644-2001 ~ Fax: 644-2745 ~ Contact
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1049, Columbus, OH 43216-1049
Street Address: 50 West Town Street, Suite 700, Columbus, OH 43215
Report a Spill, Release or Environmental Crime
(800) 282-9378 or (614) 224-0946
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