Cincinnati’s big experiment in green infrastructure

By August 24, 2012January 7th, 2014Headlines, Project Updates

After decades of neglect, the neighborhood of South Fairmount, a blighted area of west of Cincinnati is getting attention as the site of one of the nation’s largest experiments in green infrastructure.

Mill Creek, which runs along a railroad just east of South Fairmount, is bordered by concrete, much like the Los Angeles River, as it goes through downtown Cincinnati. In 1997, it was named the “most endangered urban river in North America.” Since that time, the water quality has improved with the cleanup of landfills and Superfund sites along the river, but combined sewage overflows (CSOs) still threaten the ecosystem and public health of surrounding communities.

In a 2006 consent decree, EPA ordered Cincinnati to reduce its combined sewer overflows by 85 percent. The city is undertaking a phased approach to comply with the decree and must achieve a 2-billion-gallon reduction by 2018 in the lower Mill Creek watershed. The city’s sewer district is focusing on the South Fairmount overflow because it is the largest. As part of their mandate, the EPA proposed building a massive tunnel to divert wastewater to a nearby treatment plant at a cost of $244 million – unless the city could come up with a better alternative.

That solution, known as the Lick Run Alternative, involves a system of underground storm sewers and natural, above ground waterways to transport stormwater and natural drainage to the Mill Creek. Notably, it proposes daylighting (recreating) the Lick Run stream that once ran through South Fairmount. It will also test the technical feasibility of such an undertaking and the public’s receptiveness to a natural sewerage solution. As part of the planning team led by Human Nature, staff of planning NEXT helped design the public involvement effort for he plan. Public workshops invited residents and stakeholders to learn about the planning effort and provide input on alternative designs.

Cincinnati’s Mayor Mark Mallory has big hopes for the project, calling it an “opportunity to recapture a neighborhood,” in an interview in his downtown office. “It’s going to be a model — I’m convinced of this — it’s going to be a model of what can be done with a sewer separation project around the country.”


Creek Restoration Keys Cincinnati’s Battle Against Urban Blight, Stormwater NYT August 20, 2012