State of Affairs

Metropolitan Sewer District

Many of us don’t give much thought to our sewer system until our yard, basement or neighborhood floods. Then it’s just nasty and we’re all left wondering, “how did this happen”? Well here in Louisville, MSD, or the Metropolitan Sewer District, is in charge of all things sewer and drainage. But with aging infrastructure, flood clean-up costs, and capital projects on the horizon, like many of us, MSD is facing some tough financial times. Join us on Monday when we get an update on MSD and call us with your questions.

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Environment Local News

Floyds Fork Sewer Project Draws Fire

Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District will turn in part of its plan on deadline tomorrow to the federal government in compliance with orders to upgrade its system. This particular plan would address the problem of sewer overflows in wet weather around Floyds Fork.  It would also extend sewer service to the rural area, where critics fear it would also lead to unwanted development. MSD spokesperson Brian Bingham says it’s better to have the sewer service.

“So if sewers go in, it can mean that there is going to be denser development in the area, but it can also mean that there’s going to be cleaner water quality, because even septic tanks, once you put them in, they have a useful life, and if they’re not maintained properly, that can start to leach back into the groundwater and into the streams in the area,” says Bingham.

A spokesperson for Future Fund Inc., the organization that has been acquiring land to preserve it for the Floyds Fork Greenway park project, says the agency has neglected to consider other potential environmental impacts, such as the threat to endangered species in the park.  Jeff Frank says the conservation group believes the plan would ultimately harm the growing Floyds Fork Greenway park project.

“And our principal concern is that one agency, MSD in this case, has got the apparent ability to run major infrastructure, a massive sewer, right into the heart of the parks project, without getting the proper planning and input required by a number of agencies,” Frank said.

Bingham, however, says that the proper steps have been taken, and certain environmental impact studies will be conducted once the plan is approved.  The agency does have the authority to condemn park property for sewer line rights of way if it decides that’s necessary.

Local News

MSD Preparing For High Water

The Ohio River is rising and the Louisville Metro Sewer District is preparing for high water. One pumping station was turned on Tuesday and two more will likely be turned on Wednesday.

The river is expected to reach 21 feet on Sunday, that’s two feet below flood stage.

If the water continues to rise at its current rate, two more pumping stations could be turned on this weekend.

MSD director Bud Schardein says he thinks flooding is avoidable, but he says Louisville’s equipment needs to be upgraded.

“We have nine flood pumping plants that are over 50 years old,” he says. “They’re very well-maintained, the operators are very well-trained. We do this on an annual basis, but you can’t continue to depend on plants that are over 50 years old.”

Schardein says some pumping stations are in line for upgrades. He says if necessary, parts of the flood wall could be closed this weekend.

Local News

Millions of Gallons of Raw Sewage Spill Into Ohio River

An equipment failure yesterday afternoon caused eight-million gallons of raw sewage to spill into the Ohio River.

MSD Director Bud Schardein says crews were doing a preventive maintenance check of a sewer line gate when it broke and lodged into a position that allowed raw sewage to spill into the river. It was fixed by 10 o’clock Wednesday night.

Schardein says raw sewage is frequently spilled in the Ohio during a rain event.

“When you multiply it in rain events, you’re up to around, on the average, around four billion to five billion gallons a year,” says Scharbein, “so it’s not anywhere near the volume that would happen during a wet weather event.”

But yesterday’s spill didn’t occur while it was raining.

“It’s when you have a dry weather overflow like we did yesterday that’s not caused by a rain event that it’s extraordinary and obviously EPA and the state will look at it an determine whether there’s any penalties or any fines,” says Schardien. “In my view, we were involved in a preventive maintenance program which I think would be taken into consideration.”

Schardein says MSD will have permanent fix for the gate sometime in the next week.

In-Depth News Local News

In Depth: MSD Considering Buyouts To Prevent Floods

On August 4th, six inches of rain fell on parts of Louisville in about 90 minutes. The freak storm caused a flood disaster, especially in the western and southwestern sections of the city. In those flood-prone areas, the city’s combined sewer system could not handle the massive amounts of water entering drains. Now Metro Sewer District officials are looking for ways to allow more water into the ground instead of into the sewer.

Three weeks after the flood, west Louisville resident Felicia Gardner told a Metro Council committee that what happened on August 4th was a more severe episode of the flooding that happens during every hard rainfall.

“If any of this occurred in the east end on a daily basis, you all would be doing something about it,” she said. “You know it, I know it, we all know it. Let’s keep it real.”

The east end may not flood as often, but Metro Government’s options are limited when it comes to keeping neighborhoods dry. The combined sewer system underneath much of the city handles both storm runoff and waste water. Even though it’s one of the largest combined sewers in the world, it’s out of date. Parts of it were built more than a century ago, when there wasn’t much to prevent water from soaking into the ground instead of draining into the sewer.

“No one in the 30s ever envisioned the amount of build-out that we see today,” says Metro Sewer District director Bud Schardein.

The ground over the combined sewer was covered with houses and driveways so gradually over the years that Schardein says MSD didn’t realize a drainage problem was being created as it granted building permits. He says it’s financially and logistically unfeasible to rebuild the sewer, so other steps have to be taken to reduce the amount of water going into the sewer. That could mean using a federal grant to buy flood-prone homes in west and southwest Louisville and destroy them, thereby freeing up more ground to absorb rainwater.

“Even with very, very large combined sewers already in the ground, just because of the elevation of those properties or those neighborhoods, a very heavy rain will continue to inundate the areas,” he says.

“If the water had somewhere else to go, that would alleviate the pressure enormously,” says Rose George, author of The Big Necessity, a book about waste management. She says Louisville isn’t unique: all over the world, permeable ground has been paved over, leading to flood-prone neighborhoods.

“Creating more permeable ground is probably the best solution we have the moment because it simply gives the water somewhere else to go,” she says. “And therefore it doesn’t go down in the sewers and it doesn’t overload the sewers and you don’t have floods.”

Many of the residents that might be bought out are represented by Metro Councilwoman Judy Green.

“They get flooded frequently in a heavy rain,” says Green. “So I think that they are ready to go on and look for higher ground.”

Green says her constituents are tired of flooding, but there may be a problem with buyouts.

“Over at 23rd and Maple, where the houses are shotgun-type houses probably worth 15 thousand dollars, how are you going to realistically move to a new place or a new home for that amount?” she says.

The funding for buyouts isn’t yet secured and Schardein says he won’t try to force anyone to leave. In the meantime, MSD is installing backflow prevention valves in homes and encouraging property owners to build water-absorbing rain gardens at their own expense. Both can help prevent flooding, but Schardein says the water is always going to need someplace to go.

And to keep citizens informed of their options, Councilwoman Green expects the ad-hoc flood committee that she co-chairs to pass a resolution summarizing the causes of the flood and the city’s response in the aftermath.

Local News

MSD Says Buyouts, Improvements Can Prevent Flooding

Louisville Metro Sewer District officials say more infrastructure work may be needed to prevent flooding in west and southwest Louisville. At Wednesday’s meeting of the Metro Council’s ad hoc flood committee, district six resident Felicia Gardner said her home floods whenever there’s a heavy rain, and she believes MSD could do more to alleviate the problem.

“If any of this occurred in the east end on a daily basis, you all would be doing something about it,” she says. “You know it, I know it, we all know it. Let’s keep it real.”

MSD officials say the sewer system overloaded on August 4th, causing the flash floods. Regulatory Services Director Brian Bingham says the system wasn’t meant to handle that much rain, or that many residents.

“A lot of properties that are in these areas didn’t have paved driveways, people have added those,” he says. “They’ve added additional garages, they’ve added sheds, they’ve added patios.”

MSD is considering offering to buy some homes in the flood prone areas to create green space and lessen the burden on the sewer system.

Local News

Potential Sewer Collapse Closes E. Broadway Lanes

City officials have closed all but four lanes along a stretch of East Broadway between Brent and Campbell Streets because of the potential threat of an underground sewer collapse.   Metropolitan Sewer District employees found damage to the sewer structure during some routine maintenance today.  They suspect it may have been caused by last week’s severe flooding.   The section of sewer under investigation is made up of bricks that are nearly 130-years-old.  Parts of the city’s sewer system date back to before the Civil War.

See this map of affected area.

Local News

Storm Causes Problems For Sewer District

The ice storm has caused problems for the Louisville Metro Sewer District.

MSD Director Bud Schardein says fifty pumping stations that keep water from accumulating lost power in the storm.

“We either have them on generator or we’re pumping with tanker trucks,” he says. “The whole idea and the objective is to keep those stations pumping down so it doesn’t back up into people’s homes, basements, that sort of thing.”

Schardein says there’s also a risk of water accumulating on streets.

“Water can’t get into the basins, so we’ve got about 21 crews on the street today and we’ll be running them, we have through the night, and we’ll be running them all day and night tonight, making sure we can keep those catch-basins open making sure that melting water, melting ice can get in,” he says.

Mayor Jerry Abramson says he has alerted state officials about water pooling on interstates.

Local News

Sewer Plan Draws Fire; Plan Due Dec. 31st

Louisville’s Metropolitan Sewer District will hold two more public meetings to receive comments on its plans to upgrade the city’s entire sewer system.  The court-mandated upgrades are designed to prevent raw sewage from spilling into local waterways and update an aging sewer system.  Some public comments have expressed concern that sewage would be routed from the eastern part of the county to the southwest.  But MSD head Bud Schardein says that’s not true.

“The only thing that would be transported if we used that option to the southwestern part of the community would be wet weather flow.  And wet weather flow would be that excess flow that comes through the system during a rain event, and we’d have the ability to treat it there.”

Schardein says the plans are not yet final. But the full plan, with projects totaling nearly $900 million dollars, is due to regulators by the end of this year.

(The last two public meetings are November 20th and December 2nd.  Details are at

Local News

MSD Unveils $843M Sewer Overhaul to Protect Water Quality

Metropolitan Sewer District officials have unveiled a plan to overhaul the county’s aging sewer system.  The court-ordered plan is designed to reduce overflows of untreated sewage into local waterways.  The plan’s 64 different projects will update pipes in some places.  In other places, projects will create more storage tanks to keep waste water until the treatment plant can handle it.  MSD director Bud Schardein says that some areas outside the Watterson Expressway will be getting completely new systems.

“A lot of those pipes date back to just after World War 2. So they’re showing their age.  They’re in areas with high groundwater areas, they’re in areas where folks have put in illicit connections to get rid of groundwater,” Schardein says.

And that means back ups and overflows have been a problem.  The entire suite of projects will take well over a decade and cost more than $800 million dollars.  That money will come from a gradual doubling of sewer rates over the next 16 years.  The public will have the opportunity to comment on the plan before it goes to the Environmental Protection Agency for approval.