Agreement another step toward City managing MS4 permit
governing water quality of rain runoff
COVINGTON, Ky. – The City of Covington has taken another significant step in its multi-year effort to take over management of storm water quality in the city.
At a specially called meeting Tuesday night, the Covington Board of Commissioners voted to terminate the City’s storm water agreement with Sanitation District No. 1 of Northern Kentucky (SD1) – which currently has storm water quality oversight responsibility in many other cities in the region – and transfer ownership of catch basins and other storm water infrastructure to the City.
SD1’s Board of Directors took a similar vote and approved the termination on Dec. 15.
“The regional model sounds good in theory but over the last two decades it hasn’t worked for Covington,” Mayor Joe Meyer said. “With this change, we hope to accelerate the progress toward addressing the public health hazard posed by the sewage that backs up into our residents’ basements and spills out into our streets after heavy rains.”
Tuesday’s vote is one of a number of legal steps in a complex issue.
In August, the City Commission approved the City sending an application to the Kentucky Division of Water to solely operate what’s called an MS4 permit, a rather narrow subset of the federal Clean Water Act that applies to the quality of rain once it falls to the ground and starts making its way to streams, rivers, and ultimately the oceans. State officials said they couldn’t approve that application until the City and SD1 legally parted ways.
The Cities of Florence, Cold Spring, and Walton manage their own MS4 program.
Like other residential customers in Northern Kentucky, the owners of detached single-family homes and duplexes in Covington pay a flat monthly fee to SD1 of $5.04 for storm water as part of their monthly wastewater bill.
That fee raises about $1.6 million a year from Covington property owners, but the City says the costs of administering the MS4 program constituted only a small percentage of that amount. They say the bulk of the remaining funds should be spent within the borders of Covington to address public health issues caused by polluted water that backs up onto streets and into basements during torrential rain.
The discussion intensified after a series of torrential rains in June 2019 caused damage and created public health concerns in several neighborhoods.
City leaders have said previously that residents needed to understand several points about the MS4 separation:
- The change will take many months and require more votes.
- The MS4 permit is extremely limited in its purview. The name itself is an acronym for “Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System,” which refers to the system of “conveyances” (streets, curbs, gutters, catch basins, storm drains, ditches, etc.) that “convey” rain water to streams, rivers, and eventually the oceans. The program itself governs only the quality, not the quantity, of storm water.
- SD1 will continue to oversee the City’s sanitary sewer system – or wastewater that comes from showers, toilets, sinks, and other parts of a building’s plumbing. It will also oversee combined sewers. In older cities like Covington, sewers often carry both rain runoff and sanitary sewage.
- Covington will continue to work in partnership with SD1 on issues related to sanitary sewer systems and combined sewer systems, including contributing money toward infrastructure projects in those realms.
- And the takeover of the MS4 permit will not be the end-all, be-all solution to problems of street flooding and sewer drain backups that happen during torrential rains.
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