Cincinnati, Ohio – Thursday, victims of sewer backups and flooding during heavy rains demanded justice for damages they’ve sustained.

As attendees to the Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD) Accountability Forum shared their stories, one thing became clear: people aren’t getting the help promised from MSD’s Sewer Backup Response Program.

In 2002, MSD entered into a Consent Decree with the United States Environmental Protection Agency by making an agreement to address the district’s sanitary and combined sewer overflows. The overflows violate federal water protection laws. As part of the agreement, MSD is obligated to help residents suffering from sewer backups caused by inadequate sewer capacity to handle both sewage and storm-water.

Residents contend that MSD isn’t fulfilling it’s obligation under the Sewer Backup Response Program. A theme emerged as residents shared stories of dealing with MSD in the aftermath of their backups – residents are being left to bear the financial burden of MSD’s neglect in updating the sewer system.

Hamilton County residents share their stories about sewer backups

Bond Hill residents complained that MSD sent a cleaning company out after they had a sewer backup that removed everything without trying to salvage items that could be cleaned. They were told that MSD would cover the cost of replacement. MSD later rejected their claim.

A resident of Paddock Hills said that MSD made her file a claim on her homeowners insurance before they would start a claims process through their program. Her insurance rates increased hundreds of dollars as a result of the claim, even though it was denied. MSD only covered a fraction of the cost to replace items damaged in her home during the sewer backup.

Their stories resonated with other attendees, to whom the experience is all too familiar.

Director in the hot seat

MSD Director Gerald Checco offers few answers

Among the attendees was MSD Director Gerald Checco, who offered few answers for residents seeking justice for sewer backups. “This is a problem beyond what we can do,” said Checco, even though the agency is required to under the 2002 Consent Decree. “You homes are located in rivers,” added Checco.

The meeting grew more tense as frustrated residents questioned Checco about why they didn’t get help.

Residents envision sewer  justice

Undeterred by the lack of answers from Checco, residents broke into to groups to come up with their own ideas about how to resolve the sewage overflows. Their ideas envisioned a greener Cincinnati with fair sewer rates, affordable for everyone. Proposed solutions ranged from addressing impervious surfaces like large parking lots and big box store roofs to using green infrastructure to divert storm-water away from the sewer system.

The message shared by attendees: we want help when the sewers backup, fair and affordable rates and for MSD to involve the public, now, in the plan to resolve sewer backups and overflows.