Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO)
What is Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO)?
A combined sewer system (CSS) collects rainwater runoff, domestic sewage, and industrial wastewater into one pipe. Under normal conditions, it transports all of the wastewater it collects to a sewage treatment plant for treatment, then discharges to a water body. The volume of wastewater can sometimes exceed the capacity of the CSS or treatment plant (e.g., during heavy rainfall events or snowmelt). When this occurs, untreated stormwater and wastewater, discharges directly to nearby streams, rivers, and other water bodies.
Combined sewer overflows (CSOs) contain untreated or partially treated human and industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris as well as stormwater. They are a priority water pollution concern for the nearly 860 municipalities across the U.S. that have CSSs.
CSO Control Policy
EPA’s CSO control policy is a national framework for controlling CSOs through the NPDES permitting program. It provides guidance on how communities with CSOs can achieve Clean Water Act (CWA)(274 pp, 571 K, About PDF) goals in a flexible, cost-effective manner. The CSO control policy also defines expectations for regulated communities, state water quality standards (WQS) authorities, and NPDES authorities.
Pennsylvania has 1,608 combined sewer outfalls in 39 counties; that’ about 17 percent of all such outfalls in the United States, though it’s important to note Pennsylvania is a large, populous state with extensive infrastructure.
Our Work in Harrisburg
Combined sewer overflow (CSO) has been a prolonged issue in the City of Harrisburg. As a Waterkeeper organization, we focus on environmental justice as it relates to water pollution affecting our communities, especially underprivileged and underrepresented communities. The City of Harrisburg suffers from poverty with a median household income of roughly $32,000 and is largely comprised of communities of color, with over 75% of the population identifying as black, Hispanic, Latino or Asian. These residents and those who swim, fish, and otherwise recreate in these waters deserve a cleaner Susquehanna River free from raw sewage and unsafe bacteria levels that can cause illness or death. The people of Harrisburg are being disenfranchised by the responsible parties’ continued delay in reaching a final consent decree that would reduce combined sewer overflows as effectively and expeditiously as possible.