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Covington, SD1 Approve Storm Water Split

The City of Covington took another step in a multi-year effort to take over management of storm water from Sanitation District 1 (SD1).

At Tuesday night's special city commission meeting, the mayor and commissioners, by a vote of 4-1, with Commissioner Denny Bowman dissenting, approved a termination of the city's storm water agreement with SD1.

Currently, the regional utility has quality oversight responsibility of storm water in Covington and other Northern Kentucky cities and areas.

The vote also transfers ownership of catch basins and other storm water infrastructure to the city.

SD1's board of directors approved the change earlier this month.

“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.”

A series of additional votes on the storm water issue is expected.

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 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 said that 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.

The city said in a news release that residents must 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 stormwater.
  • SD1 will continue to oversee the city’s sanitary sewer system (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.

-Staff report

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