In the past three months, Jeffersonville has had eight combined sewer overflows, or CSOs. This is when water levels rise and the city’s sewer system releases untreated sewage and wastewater into the Ohio River so it doesn’t back up into people’s homes. The releases pollute the river and spread E. coli bacteria.
The most recent overflow was on Sunday, after it rained nearly an inch in a short period of time. But other overflows have been triggered by as little as five hundredths of an inch of rain. One overflow—on June 1—came on a day when there wasn’t any rain.
Jeffersonville wastewater department director Len Ashack says the city knows the CSOs are a problem, and is sinking millions of dollars into upgrading the system.
“The bottom line is, we’re doing the best we can as quickly as we can,” he said “It didn’t get this way overnight and it’s not going to change overnight either.”
But the solution won’t be cheap.
“By the end of the day, we’ll have probably borrowed close to $100 million,” Ashack said. “For a community that’s 45,000 people, that’s a lot of money to owe.”
That will likely translate to higher rates in Jeffersonville, where sewer rates have already risen 115 percent since 2008.
The city isn’t fined for these combined sewer overflows. They’re authorized, as long as the city has a long-term control plan in effect. But Jeffersonville’s isn’t scheduled to be finished for another thirteen years, and until then it’s likely the CSOs will continue.