Sewer Systems: Not just for Ninja Turtles

Combined Sewer Overflow

The availability of clean water is essential to support the health and economy of every nation in the world. A major source of water pollution is the failing infrastructure we use to control and maintain the water we use. Hidden beneath cities is an underground maze of pipes and tunnels that not only carries the water we consume, but also carries waste water, storm water, and the water used to power and drive our everyday lives.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that it could cost the nation $700 billion to $1 trillion to replace the physical water infrastructure. Not only that, but cities would have to be torn apart, causing major disruptions for upwards of 10 years. To make these kinds of major improvements, there must be agreements between political, social, and economic forces, which often bring discussion of water infrastructure to a dead halt.

The 2012 Xylem Value of Water Index, a nationwide poll detailing what US voters think should be done about the country’s water infrastructure and who should pay for it, is a great info-graphic report that provides a visual on what a sample of the population is thinking. This report is interactive, allowing you to navigate through the most important aspects of the study.

In the Mill Creek Watershed, located in the City of Cincinnati, the sewer infrastructure is a topic of major concern. Every time we get a heavy rain event, the combined sewer overflow system dumps the excess stormwater/raw sewage mix directly into the Mill Creek. This stream then makes its ways to the Ohio River, where many residents get their drinking water.

It is important to not only look at making infrastructure improvements in the future, but to also reduce the amount of runoff that makes its way into our sewer structures right now. We can do this by installing rain gardens, creating wetlands, using rain barrels, planting trees, and anything else that allows water to absorb and infiltrate back into the ground slowly. The more impervious surfaces (aka streets, buildings, parking lots, etc) we have, the more taxed our sewer system is during rain events.


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