Each year, during heavy rainfalls about 1.5 billion gallons of raw sewage escapes the local sewer systems, which can lead to dirty rivers and streams, backed-up basements and flooded communities.
Why does this happen?
Older, more urban parts of Northern Kentucky, such as Covington and Newport, have a combined sewer system that carries both wastewater and storm water in the same pipe.
During heavy rainfall, the system fills up with too much water and overflows into local waterways. While this reduces the likelihood of sewage backing up into buildings or flooding local streets, it’s harmful to the environment.
When the sewer system was first built, overflows were uncommon because there was lots of natural land to soak up the rain. But as Northern Kentucky developed, much of that land was paved over and now more stormwater enters the sewer system and causes overflows.
Overflows can also occur in newer areas of Northern Kentucky, where wastewater and storm water are carried in different pipes. This happens less frequently, and is often caused by blockages or broken pipes.
This challenge is not unique to Northern Kentucky. There are hundreds of communities across the United States with aging combined sewer systems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and many – including Cincinnati, Louisville, Columbus, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and St. Louis – are under federal orders to resolve their sewer overflow challenges.