An Assessment of Ohio Cities’ Water and Sewer Infrastructure and Brownfield Sites Redevelopment

Like many places in the country, Ohio’s cities have fallen behind in making needed investments in water and sewer infrastructure. Many districts have made nominal investments while some, for various reasons, have opted to delay addressing these challenges altogether. However, further postponing this infrastructure repair will only compound current problems.

Based on interviews with expert consultants and stakeholders from a range of water and sewer districts and state agencies as well as on research and analysis of current practices and recent trends, this report details the salient needs and gaps facing these sewer and water districts and the brownfields redevelopment options.

With poor grades from the Ohio Chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers for the state’s water and sewer systems, these systems are in need of an estimated $25 billion over the next 20 years for system upgrades and modernization improvements. In addition to regular maintenance, which many communities have deprioritized due to cost concerns, reducing the number of combined sewer overflows (CSO) is critical to protecting public health.

Furthermore, many brownfield sites in Ohio’s communities could be redeveloped and thus contribute to both infrastructure upgrades and economic development prospects. The wind-down of the Clean Ohio Fund eliminated a large portion of available redevelopment funding and has left communities struggling to find ways to finance brownfield redevelopment. These sites, for the most part, do not qualify for the major existing state level brownfield remediation program due to the eligibility requirements that focus on the nexus between site redevelopment and job creation.

Because funding for infrastructure and brownfields remediation is scarce or difficult to obtain, communities are challenged to make necessary but expensive infrastructure upgrades. They are also prevented from addressing brownfield site remediation and redevelopment that can spur revitalization and attract businesses and economic activity. Some public and private (or public-private hybrid) funding resources and financing vehicles exist that state and local actors can pursue to address these challenges. However, insufficient and inaccessible funding weakens the opportunity for Ohio communities to make these essential investments.