Until the region’s sewer problem is fixed, you might want to hold off on flushing your toilet

By now just about everyone in the region knows we have a combined sewer overflow problem. If you think it sounds pretty technical and boring, you’re right. But the reality is that it’s pretty gross. To put it in simple terms, next time it rains you might want to avoid flushing the toilet. More from Next City:

Every time it rains, stormwater runoff from roofs, parking lots and driveways washes pollutants into the nation’s streams, rivers and lakes. At the same time, in many cities with antiquated infrastructure, combined sewer overflow systems send untreated sewage into waterways. The resulting contamination often entails violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

“Who ever thinks about the plumbing code? On the other hand, there is a simplicity to the concepts. When it’s raining, when you flush the toilet, what you flush goes straight to the river. If you can wait until it stops raining, you should do that.”


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  • sam hatchett

    it’s actually worse than you think. To prevent your flush from getting released via an outfall, you would have to stop loading your sewage line many hours before the “first flush” of storm water. It all depends on the hydraulics that connect your home or business to the nearest CSO. You can receive CSO advisory alerts from the Metropolitan Sewer District here: http://www.msdgc.org/consent_decree/cso_public_notification_program/index.html

    • TimSchirmang

      Even though it sounds gross that sewage from human infrastructure ends up in natural drainage channels without treatment during storms, Cincy pulls the bulk of its drinking water from the river anyway and does an excellent job filtering it on the intake side. The amount of animal waste, farm chemicals, industrial/urban surface runoff, etc. that ends up in the river anyways, whether it’s a CSO system or separate system, is enormous.

    • sam hatchett

      Right! The CSO issue is just one small part of the human ecological footprint. And indeed, the water works does a fine job – I work closely with a few GCWW folks on building new technologies. The main problem with CSOs as I understand it is the unnecessary loading on the environment (avoidable, even if marginal), with a special focus on the transmission of human enteric pathogens, like norovirus, which may be released into recreational waters or evade treatment and enter the drinking water system. The USEPA recently held a forum on the public health impacts of wet-weather blending, and a preliminary summary is here for the curious: http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/npdes/sso/Experts-Forum-on-Public-Health-Impacts-of-Wet-Weather-Blending.cfm

    • EDG

      Yeah, Next City I think just confused a lot of people thinking that their toilet plumbs directly to the river when it’s raining. Lol. Not their best piece.

  • EDG

    Plumbing code??

  • Phydeux

    Not my problem. That’s why we pay water department engineers 6-digit salaries with our taxes and water fees. When I’m done taking a poo I will flush it regardless of the weather. And if it goes to the river, so be it. There’s plenty of fish turds in the water for it to mingle with.

  • Matt Jacob

    The Ohio River water quality fluctuates a lot with rain due to the CSOs and other runoff. At times it’s can actually be cleaner than many lakes since it flushes many of the pollutants downriver. I’ve done the Great Ohio River Swim the last 3 years and they test the water before we race. It’s fine for recreation most of the time. (there’s also an app to doublecheck before you go out) The truth is that the river used to be much dirtier and sometime that stigma is still attached towards it unnecessarily so. Many people need educated on the progress that has been made to clean our waterways, but of course there is still a lot of work to do.