SEWER OVERFLOWS: Chicago Reaches Settlement to Reduce Sewage Overflows

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the State of Illinois on Dec. 14 announced a Clean Water Act (CWA) settlement with the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago (MWRD) to resolve claims that untreated sewer discharges were released into Chicago area waterways during flood and wet weather events. The settlement will safeguard water quality and protect people?s health by capturing stormwater and wastewater from the combined sewer system, which services the city of Chicago and 51 communities.

?This consent decree requires MWRD to invest in green roofs, rain gardens and other green infrastructure to prevent basement flooding in the neighborhoods that are most severely impacted by sewer overflows,? said EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman. ?The enforceable schedule established by this consent decree will also ensure completion of the deep tunnel and reservoir system to control untreated sewage releases into Chicago area rivers and Lake Michigan.?

Under the settlement, MWRD will work to complete a tunnel and reservoir plan to increase its capacity to handle wet weather events and address combined sewer overflow discharges. The project will be completed in a series of stages in 2015, 2017 and 2029. The settlement also requires MWRD to control trash and debris in overflows using skimmer boats to remove debris from the water so it can be collected and properly managed, making waterways cleaner and healthier. MWRD is also required to implement a green infrastructure program that will reduce stormwater runoff in areas serviced by MWRD by distributing rain barrels and developing projects to build green roofs, rain gardens, or use pervious paving materials in urban neighborhoods. MWRD also agreed to pay a civil penalty of $675,000.

Raw sewage contains pathogens that threaten public health, leading to beach closures and public advisories against fishing and swimming. This problem particularly affects older urban areas, where minority and low-income communities are often located. Keeping raw sewage and contaminated stormwater out of the waters of the United States is one of EPA?s National Enforcement Initiatives for 2011 to 2013. The initiative focuses on reducing discharges from sewer overflows by obtaining cities? commitments to implement timely, affordable solutions to these problems, including the increased use of green infrastructure and other innovative approaches.

MWRD owns 36 CSO outfalls located on Chicago area river ways. The 51 satellite communities own 334 CSO outfalls also located on Chicago area river ways.?

MWRD will complete implementation of CSO remedial measures to eliminate a substantial percentage of CSOs by Dec. 31, 2029, that, upon completion, are estimated at a cost of more than $3 billion. These measures include an enforceable schedule for completion of CSO remedial measures known as the ?tunnel and reservoir plan? or TARP. This plan includes the construction of 109 miles of tunnels that have a storage capacity of approximately 2.3 billion gallons, and the completion of three reservoirs. The tunnel and reservoirs will have a combined capacity of approximately 17 billion gallons of sewage and flood water. Work on TARP began nearly 40 years ago but has been delayed by funding and engineering challenges, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.

The report indicates a total of $3.3 billion has been spent on the deep tunnel system that went online in 2006.

South Bend Reaches Settlement

The U.S. Attorney?s Office and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Dec. 29 announced that the City of South Bend, Ind., has agreed to make an estimated $509.5 million worth of improvements to its combined sewer system to significantly reduce overflows of raw sewage to the St. Joseph River, which is a tributary of Lake Michigan.

The improvements that South Bend will implement to its sewer system under the consent decree will provide major public health and environmental benefits. Currently, South Bend annually discharges into the St. Joseph River a total of over 2 billion gallons of untreated sewage during 80 events. After implementing the improvements required under the settlement, South Bend will reduce the number of raw sewage discharge events by 95 percent to only four during a typical year of rainfall. The reduced discharges will result in preventing over 700,000 pounds of pollutants from entering the St. Joseph River each year. The State of Indiana is a co-plaintiff and a signatory to the proposed consent decree.

South Bend?s combined sewer system collects and conveys to South Bend?s wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) storm water, sanitary sewage and other pollutants from the City of South Bend and other portions of St. Joseph County, Ind., an area covering approximately 14,000 acres of land, with a service population of approximately 107,000 people. South Bend?s sewage collection system, consisting of approximately 550 miles of pipe, conveys storm water, sewage and other pollutants to the city?s WWTP. During wet weather events, and during some dry weather time periods, a portion of the sewage that flows through South Bend?s combined sewers is not conveyed all the way to the WWTP; instead the raw sewage is discharged into the St. Joseph River through some or all of 36 outfalls.

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