Cincinnati Receives Federal Approval for Innovative Green Infrastructure CSO Fix

Last week the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the solution proposed by the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) for fixing its combined sewer overflows (CSOs) into the Mill Creek.

Cincinnati is one of many cities struggling to fix their CSOs, which are caused by a combination of higher water runoff and sewer systems that were designed to accommodate both stormwater runoff and sewage. What it means in real terms is that when there are heavy rain events, the stormwater fills up the sewers and then mixes with the sewage.

According to the EPA, raw sewage contains pathogens that threaten public health, leading to beach closures and public advisories against fishing and swimming, and is a problem that particularly affects older urban area.

Lick Run Project
MSD’s plan to reduce 1.5 billion gallons of CSOs from the Mill Creek will include the transformative Lick Run project in South Fairmount.

As a result, under a 2010 consent decree, the MSD was required to either construct a deep-tunnel system under Mill Creek, or conduct further analysis and propose an alternative plan. What is unique about Cincinnati’s approved plan is that it deviates from the standard ‘gray’ tunnel solution, and instead proposes using green infrastructure fixes to reduce stormwater runoff.

“We are very excited to move forward with our innovative wet weather solution that not only provides highly cost-effective compliance with our Consent Decree but simultaneously sets the groundwork to enhance our communities,” James A. “Tony” Parrott, MSD’s Executive Director, said in a prepared release.

In addition to the environmental benefits of Cincinnati’s alternative plan, it is also expected to save taxpayers approximately $200 million upfront and remove 1.78 billion gallons of CSOs annually from the Mill Creek.

The savings come from not building a new deep-tunnel system to accommodate the excess stormwater runoff, and instead aiming to reduce the amount of stormwater flowing into the sewer systems during heavy rains.

The green infrastructure solution being pursued by Cincinnati is already being viewed as a national model for other cities looking to clean up their waterways.

Lick Run View (Northwest) Lick Run View (Southwest)
The $192M Lick Run project would create a linear park through South Fairmount along a newly ‘daylighted’ stream. Images provided.

The hallmark feature of the plan is the $192 million Lick Run Project, which will ‘daylight’ the former creek through the heart of South Fairmount and creating a linear park that officials say will convey stormwater and natural drainage to the Mill Creek. This project alone is estimated to reduce overflows into the Mill Creek, from the largest CSO in the system, by 624 million gallons annually.

“This plan is good news for the residents of Cincinnati and for communities along the Ohio River,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Not only will this innovative plan ensure that significant volumes of polluted stormwater and raw sewage are kept out of local waterways, but it will also cost less than more traditional approaches, saving money for ratepayers and the city.”

In addition to the Lick Run Project, MSD’s phase one fixes will also include upgrades to the West Fork, Kings Run, and Bloody Run watersheds that will result in an additional 422 million gallons CSO reduction.

The combined phase one work is planned to take place over the next five years and is estimated to create nearly 1,000 full-time equivalent construction jobs.

MSD officials say that plans for phase two work will be submitted in 2017, and will aim to address CSOs in the Lower Mill Creek watershed. While the plans are not yet finalized, both MSD officials and regulators believe the final remedy will also use an integrated watershed plan approach.

  • Neil Clingerman

    While the net result of this project will be a good thing that will save the city 100s of millions of dollars, I’m really concerned about one aspect of the project – the fact that what’s left of Fairmount’s old commerical district will be wiped out by this project. There is NO provision to move the buildings, which IMO when compared to the cost of the whole project is a small amount something that won’t really increase the cost of the whole thing significantly. I’m disappointed that the city has done nothing to at least move the buildings an use its historic charm as a catalyst for the district.

    I hate to say it but after this is done it will probably instead be redeveloped with more post-modern junk from CR – and that’s terrible for Cincinnati if its to maintain some semblance of its charm. 🙁

    • There are only two blocks of that entire stretch that include older buildings. The western portion was already cleared when Queen City Avenue was rebuilt in the early 2000s, the eastern portion is full of fast food drive-thrus and the like, and the older central portion is a smattering of historic/non-historic/empty lots.

      Of those historic buildings that are left, there aren’t many businesses remaining in them. The neighborhood is in awful shape.

      Now this is not to say that demolition of the neighborhood should be the solution, but my point is that we should not overly romanticize the existing conditions, which are mostly deteriorated and auto-oriented.

    • Neil Clingerman

      I’m not going to romanticize the existing conditions at all, but it feels like there is a better alternative than the final project that was hoisted upon S. Fairmount.

    • According to MSD the following outreach efforts took place: a Community Open House; three Community Design Workshops; tours of the Lick Run Watershed; meetings with the South Fairmount Community Council and South Fairmount Business Association; meetings with individual business and property owners; a meeting with the Communities of the Future Advisory Committee (CFAC); public outreach at local festivals; community cleanups; and letters mailed to Lick Run Watershed residents and interested others.

      This is all in addition to the efforts MSD has made already to acquire a significant amount of the land in the project area. I’m not exactly sure you can make the claim that the project was “hoisted” onto the neighborhood. Many people were involved in the process to get it to this point. Obviously not all are happy with the outcome, but that doesn’t mean that the appropriate engagement/outreach efforts weren’t taken.


    • Neil Clingerman

      That’s entirely fair, and its sad that in given such a fair opportunity to select a better option than what was presented, the citizens/stakeholders choose to destroy what was left of the old neighborhood, and more importantly those who wanted to preserve it didn’t build the coalition with older residents in order submit a better solution.

      I guess this is why my argument so often is that there needs to be a change in culture in Cicninnati, right now the culture is one of defeat and lack of pride, while places like OTR are changing this culture, there are still too many people who don’t realize the value of what their city could offer if they take a closer look at what’s there and band together to save what’s left.

      It seems that those who want to impart change all too often get too frustrated with this acceptance of a broken status-quo and then are unable to at least do the proper way of changing people’s minds without adoption of an adversarial stance. I know there were people arguing for preservation of this area, but it seems that they took a stance of “people there are idiots”, as opposed to a stance of, “this will benefit you all if you take a different approach.”

    • Neil, are you proposing that parking lots, drive thrus and some old buildings are better than a park? And that is is defeatism?

      The fact is parks draw people, and people spend money. People spending money draw new businesses.

      Not doing this project would be my idea of the old Cincinnati where fear of change rules the day.

    • Neil Clingerman

      Not quite, I’m suggesting that the project be done but the old buildings left be moved and consolidated to be part of the project instead of it only consisting of infill development.

  • Has anyone ever been to the taco truck that sits out in the parking lot next to Murray’s Wings Pub & Grill? It’s a little bit west of this project area, but still pretty close.

    • Anne Mitchell

      Taqueria Yolandita moved further down the hill to the corner of Quebec beside the bodega there. Their food is very good.

      Is there a bigger, better map that shows exactly which streets and buildings are affected? I only see the small shaded area map.

    • Good to know!

      Here is the PDF of the plans: You can see more clearly in there what is being considered for demolition, preservation, and so on. Hopefully that helps.

  • Hershel Daniels JUnior

    Our proposal is fixed price $235M in November 2012 dollars. How much is MSD’s. Oh those pretty pictures, Tony said he doesn’t have the money to build that, just to present it as what could be. Where are the answers? We tried and continue to do so, next event is August 19th 2013.

    May 17th 5:19 PM

    RE: The Lower Mill Creek and Africa

    From Portune, Todd

    To Hershel Daniels

    Monzel, Chris
    Hartmann, Greg
    8 More…

    Dear Mr. Daniels:

    Thank you for your email and links below. I look forward to any other information you have to share on the topic.

    As you know I have personally led the charge, with the unanimous support of my Board, at looking toward new, sustainable and environmentally sensitive and sound practices that are designed to meet our obligations under the Clean Water Act. In particular we are aggressively pursuing changes in federal policy that result in EPA and DOJ becoming real partners with local jurisdictions like ours in the implementation of the Act and in designing and constructing new, Green Build infrastructure improvements that rely upon watershed and adaptive management principles; green infrastructure and other sustainable methods that introduce 21st Century science into the equation.

    Your proposal is received as one that is designed to meet that standard of implementation.

    Part of the purpose of this email is to confirm our meeting and your willingness to provide additional details of your proposal to me and to the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners. In my opinion we should always remain open to new technologies and advances in science that work to enable us to meet our obligations in ways that are either more efficient, easier to sustain, or that allow us to reap additional benefits arising out of the use of the same dollar.

    The concept of generating energy out of our sewer operations at such levels as you propose should be of interest to everyone. Further if there exist reasonable and fiscally attainable ways to dispose of sewer sludge and/or other liquid/solid waste and to capture any gas byproducts that in turn can be recycled into usable sources of energy, our reaction should be one of interest and a willingness to explore.

    It is my hope that Hamilton County along with the city of Cincinnati and a willing partner at the USEPA and USDOJ will make certain that expert review and analysis is done of this proposal to ensure that we do not overlook a meaningful opportunity. In short, unless a sufficiently thorough and expert review rules out what you propose, my hope is that all appropriate stakeholders will work together to ensure that an idea of such exciting potential as yours is not overlooked.

    Thank you again for following up. I look forward to receiving anything else you may wish to pass along for review and to hearing further about your proposal.

    Sincerely and respectfully yours,

    Todd Portune

    From: Hershel Daniels []

    Sent: Friday, May 17, 2013 11:23 AM


    Cc:; Monzel, Chris; Portune, Todd; Hartmann, Greg; Wise, Kellie; Panioto, Jacqueline; Bell, Gena; Binns, Kathy; Webb, Lisa; Sigman, Christian; Gruber, Mary;; roxanne qualls; Councilman Wendell Young;;;; Charlie Winburn;;; christopher smitherman;; Mark Mallory; Lea Eriksen;; Michael Cervay
    Subject: The Lower Mill Creek and Africa

    17 May 2013

    Barbara VanTil,
    Section Chief for Enforcement
    Water Division
    U.S. EPA Region 5
    77 W. Jackson Blvd.
    Chicago, IL 60604-3590

    Barbara VanTil,


    EPA had opened a public comment period on the request of the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners and the city of Cincinnati for approval of a revised proposal for controlling combined sewer overflows in a portion of Lower Mill Creek. If approved, Hamilton County and Cincinnati would be allowed to pursue that plan as a substitute for a deep tunnel-based solution outlined in the original, court-ordered wet weather control plan.

    We responded with a 119 page comment that was led off by the reply by the President of the United States on Feb 7th 2012 to my MLK 2013 Day of Service Pledge to create a trillion dollar solution [$200B in Infrastructure and over $100B in Housing sewer reductions and green sustainability support] to problem using his executive authority. We would like to know your response as we have not heard back from you.

    In addition we in our comment to green solutions that build a sustainable world from a Cincinnati based HQ we had offered to do the Lower Mill Creek project for a fixed capped price of $235M using our exclusive technology and financing team.

    This year, 2013, with MWH Global we repeated our pledge to do so to Commissioner Todd Portune and although scheduled with Councilman Young a mix up occurred and we did so to his AA.

    At this time we would like to setup a meeting to implement a formal relationship to save the local ratepayers in Hamilton County money not only in Ohio but on all these type projects whereas we will provide a fixed price solution through our patented sewer solutions with USPTO 5,577,042 embedded in a secure sewer control solutions. MSD said last year they would not sign a non disclosure on this job creating technology invested in Cincinnati in 1995 at 5th and Race. We stand ready to meet with the elected officials, government employees and ratepayers on this issue.

    Enclosed is a backgrounder.

    We have since the comment period assembled a team that is finalizing the infrastructure to create public private partnerships for situations like that in Cincinnati and countries like Ghana and look forward to discussing it with you. On Monday we will proposing framework in the creation of a solution that saves the ratepayers money in Hamilton County. It is part of our plans to create a Friends of the African Union network of Centers of Excellence in Sewers, Water, Power and Green Solutions with the African Scientific Institute HQ in Mt Auburn on building plans already completed and ready for funding.

    We based our plan of work done for Africa with a focus on Ghana, South Africa and Senegal as well as the Americas, principally the USA, Haiti and Bermuda. As many of you know at one time I was the Chief of Staff, Technology for the Honorable David Morrow Senior Honorary Counsel for the Republic of Guinea to the United States of America.

    The State Department, in collaboration with several co-sponsors, US EPA as one, hosted the U.S.- Africa Business Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, June 21-22 2012, at the Westin Cincinnati Hotel. We are also one of the few African American firms invited by the US State Dept. at this conference to sell our expertise at the conference. Here the US EPA was touting MSD as a example of American expertise that could be used by Africa.

    The conference showcased both U.S. business expertise to potential African clients, and highlighted trade and investment opportunities in Africa to U.S. exporters and investors. We looked forward to holding the conference in Cincinnati, which was selected as the conference location for its potential to increase commercial partnerships with Africa at local, state, and regional levels. We have been following up on that and have landed several potential contracts that will bring over 500 jobs in Ohio.

    Furthermore, we will in this year of the 50th Anniversary of the African Union look to setup a Ohio based global STEM Center of Excellence in Sewers, Water, Power and Green Solutions that would service the Americas, Asia and focus on Africa with the US EPA.

    If you have any questions please feel free to call.

    Sudhir Desai, EPA
    Hamilton County Commissioners
    City of Cincinnati Councilpersons
    Mayor of Cincinnati
    Hamilton County Administrator
    City of Cincinnati Manager
    City of Cincinnati Community Development Director [assigned by city manager to Hargrove’s Plans in 2010 when we made original proposal to MSD in June 2010 to create an Alliance]


    /s/ hershel daniels junior