Toilet paper in the park but no fix for the problem in sight

This is what Beargrass Creek looked like on March 5 at the Frankfort Avenue bridge just north of Mellwood Avenue.

As I looked out at the gray skies last Thursday, I read Southerly, a newsletter by Lyndsay Gilpin. This weekly newsletter focuses on “ecology and culture in the American South, exploring the complicated relationship between Southern communities and their environment.” It’s very good – I highly recommend you subscribe.

In the latest issue, Lyndsay writes about encountering sewage in two parts of town – a park and a bar – after the recent heavy rains:

While strolling in Louisville’s Cherokee Park on a dreary, rainy day last week, my friend, Anna, stopped to look at a soggy piece of white paper hanging from a tree branch. β€œIs that toilet paper?” she asked.

I nodded slowly in disbelief. We walked a little farther, where we discovered a giant, stagnant pile of trash under a bridge along Beargrass Creek. There were basketballs, footballs, bottles, paper, hundreds of styrofoam cups and to-go containers. More litter was strewn along the banks of the creek and in the trees. Brown water soaked the grass under our shoes. The air was humid, clammy, and smelled of raw sewage.

The day after we walked around the park, Anna and I went to a jazz club in downtown Louisville located a couple of blocks from the Ohio River. Halfway through the set, water rose from the drain, covering the floors in several inches of murky water.

On the same day, WFPL reported that the Metro Council delayed a vote on allowing MSD to increase rates to update our Civil War era infrastructure:

MSD is again seeking to raise rates to cover expenses for what it says are necessary infrastructure upgrades. The measure has failed passage in Metro Council in the past, most recently last year.

MSD has spent some $700 million on projects for the federal consent decree to reduce sewage overflows into the Ohio River. The deadline for that project is 2024. MSD is not able to do much beyond consent decree work with its current budget, MSD executive director Tony Parrott said.

MSD estimates that the higher rate would add about $10 to the average bill, which goes out every two months.

On Sunday after breakfast at The Silver Dollar, I drove over Beargrass Creek going north on Frankfort Avenue just after Mellwood. The water was a murky teal. The stream looked like a settling pool or water holding tank that you usually see in a water processing facility. I guess that is what our natural waterways have become – free range sewage processing plants. The intersection of the two news stories from the previous week – sewage everywhere but no will to fix it – popped back into my mind.

You don’t have to live on River Road or in West Point to feel the effects of our city’s overwhelmed sewer system. It’s hard to imagine that the combination of news stories (four billion gallons of stormwater and raw sewage into the Ohio River and Beargrass Creek over the last five days) and first-hand experiences with sewage (toilet paper in the park) isn’t enough to generate sufficient will in the Metro Council to give MSD the ability to solve the problem. As Mr. Parrott said last fall, the rate hike requests aren’t going away.

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