The United States and the State of Louisiana have announced a civil settlement with the City of Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish, La., intended to end years of sewage overflows and long-standing violations of the Clean Water Act. The settlement will require the jurisdictions to make extensive improvements to their co-owned and operated municipal sewage treatment and collection system that are intended to reduce discharges of untreated sewage to public areas and U.S. waters by more than 1.2 billion gallons annually.
Under the agreement lodged in the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Louisiana, the City of Baton Rouge and East Baton Rouge Parish have committed to select and implement a comprehensive improvement plan which will take between 13 and 15 years to carry out and is expected to cost between $330 and $461 million. In addition, the city and the parish will pay a $729,500 penalty and spend up to $1.12 million for environmental projects that will benefit local citizens served by smaller neighborhood sewer systems.
"This settlement demonstrates that when the States, the U.S. and municipalities work together, even the most difficult and long-standing environmental problems can be solved," John C. Cruden, acting assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. "We expect that this settlement will encourage other communities whose sewer systems violate the Clean Water Act to take the initiative to address these issues very seriously."
"This settlement demonstrates EPA's commitment to enforcing laws that require municipalities to take the steps necessary to prevent the public from being exposed to discharges of raw sewage. This agreement shows that the federal government and states can find real solutions to improving sewer systems that are inadequate for modern needs," said Sylvia Lowrance, EPA acting assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
The most serious problem facing the City and Parish is that the pipes transporting sewage to the treatment plants are antiquated, allowing significant inflows of water from groundwater, rainwater and other sources. These pipes have inadequate capacity to transport the excess volume flowing through the system to the treatment plant. The result is a discharge of untreated sewage from pipes and other locations, creating a threat to public health and the environment.
The discharges of raw sewage contain a variety of pollutants including pathogenic microorganisms, viruses, cysts, and chemical and floatable materials. These discharges often occur to areas where they present high risks of human exposure, such as streets, private property, and receiving waters used for drinking water, fishing and shell fishing, or recreation. Health risks associated with bacteria-laden water may result through skin contact with the discharges or through ingestion of contaminated water or shellfish and range in severity from mild gastroenteritis to diseases that can be life threatening, such as infectious hepatitis and dysentery.
The decree, which requires Baton Rouge to implement a comprehensive improvement plan to prevent the overflows, identifies several alternative approaches for improving the sewer system and requires the city to select one of those alternatives by June 1, 2002 for implementation. Baton Rouge initially developed a plan for improving the sewer system in 1999 and since that time developed several alternatives which improve on the original plan. The improved alternatives to the 1999 plan are the alternatives from which Baton Rouge will select a final plan under the Consent Decree. Baton Rouge began implementing the 1999 plan prior to agreeing to the Consent Decree. The decree requires Baton Rouge to continue implementing the common elements of the alternative plans while it selects a final plan.
"Baton Rouge has demonstrated that it is committed to developing a reliable long term solution to its sewer problems. The City-Parish officials have dealt with the federal government in good faith throughout the negotiation process. Their good faith efforts were an important factor in developing a consent decree which benefits all parties and the residents of East Baton Rouge Parish," commented David R. Dugas, U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana.
In addition to paying a civil penalty, the city and parish will perform a supplemental environmental project to connect several areas within the city that are currently served by generally ineffective neighborhood sewage treatment plants or are on septic systems that often overflow. This environmental project will benefit the citizens of Baton Rouge and the environment by eliminating additional discharges of raw or poorly treated sewage in the region.