Officials with Franklin County and the Ohio Sierra Club have reached a formal agreement over a long-standing issue with sanitary discharges in the storm water system.
The accord lays out several steps the county must take to rectify the situation, which poses a threat to the environment and public health, said Ben Wickizer, conservation coordinator with the Sierra Club.
"There's no sort of single bullet," Wickizer said.
"I think the consent decree and the measures in it are a step in the right direction and the next step is following through and making sure the county does everything it can to comply with the decree."
Both the county and environmental group will take the consent decree to the Department of Justice and U.S. EPA for review. U.S. District Court will have the final approval.
According to the settlement, the county will hire three new staff members who will be required to do 100 site inspections per person per year. Also, the city must install additional sewers in priority areas, create better agency collaboration, offer greater transparency and give the public more information.
The issue, dating back to 2006, stems from failing home sewage treatment systems within the unincorporated areas of the county.
A number of issues led to the pollution, including aging sewer systems, infrastructure problems and poorly functioning aerators, Wickizer said.
The issue was discovered by the county's own screening data and the contamination was fairly widespread, he said.
In June 2011, the Sierra Club filed a 60-day notice of intent to sue Franklin County and 17 townships in federal court under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, Wickizer said.
"It's not just a concern for people," he said.
"Even animals, pets, get in there, get exposed to pathogens such as salmonella and other forms of bacteria."
The two sides have been negotiating on the settlement for about 20 months.
The county will pay up to $30,000 in attorney's fees incurred by the Sierra Club's lawsuit.