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The Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation jointly announced a comprehensive Clean Water Act settlement with the Knoxville Utilities Board (KUB). The settlement will ensure the proper management, operation and maintenance of KUB's sewer system including measures to prevent overflows of untreated sewage.
A consent decree, filed today in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in Knoxville, represents the combined efforts of the United States and the state of Tennessee as well as the Tennessee Clean Water Network and the City of Knoxville, which have also entered into this settlement as plaintiffs.
"This joint enforcement action will bring long-term significant improvement to Knoxville's sewer system," said Tom L. Sansonetti, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "This demonstrates that federal and state agencies and local organizations can work together to achieve compliance with our environmental regulations."
"Aging sewer systems create significant environmental problems across our nation," said Thomas V. Skinner, EPA's acting assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "Today's settlement represents a significant commitment by the Knoxville Utilities Board to curb the sewage overflows that have affected the community and should be applauded."
With the goal of eliminating sewage overflows and maintaining compliance with its Clean Water Act permits, the consent decree will require KUB to continuously analyze the causes of overflows and propose specific corrective action plans to abate such causes; implement management, operation and maintenance (MOM) programs to prevent future overflows; ensure that the sewer system has adequate capacity before allowing new connections to add flow; comprehensively review the performance of its treatment plants; respond to overflows when they occur, including cleaning up building backups; and institute a comprehensive water quality monitoring program. This work is estimated to cost approximately $530 million and is expected to eliminate approximately 3.5 million gallons of sewage overflows annually.
KUB is a participant in EPA's Southeastern Region's Maintenance, Operation and Management Program, under which EPA asks wastewater utilities to perform a detailed self-audit and evaluation of their management, operation and maintenance programs. An additional purpose of the MOM Program is to achieve prompt environmental improvements and regulatory compliance in a more cooperative setting than litigation.
"This case demonstrates the real environmental accomplishments that can be achieved through the MOM Program," said Jimmy Palmer, EPA regional administrator in Atlanta. "KUB's proactive efforts in conducting a detailed audit and evaluation of their management, operation and maintenance programs was instrumental in expediting the resolution of this settlement. We hope that successful outcomes like this will encourage other wastewater utilities to implement proper management, operation and maintenance programs in their areas."
"The environment is far better protected and the public is far better served when cooperative effort and agreement prevail. All the parties are to be commended for the work they did to resolve this controversy in a positive manner," said Betsy Child, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
The consent decree also requires KUB to pay a civil penalty which will be split between the U.S. and Tennessee. The U.S. and the state will each receive $167,000 for a total penalty of $334,000. The state penalty will be paid in the form of an environmental project to provide funds for the acquisition of real property interests in the Williams Creek watershed. The purpose of this state environmental project is to protect, restore and enhance water quality, wetlands areas and riparian areas within the Williams Creek watershed and to prevent any use of such properties that will impair or otherwise interfere with the restoration and preservation of the property to its natural condition.
KUB also will perform a $2 million Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) by providing funding to moderate, low and very low income level residential property owners to repair their privately owned sewer pipes that connect into KUB's sewer system. These privately owned sewer pipes may have defects that allow excessive inflow of rain water into KUB's sewer system and contribute to sewage overflows. Repairs will bring defective privately owned sewer pipes into compliance with the current plumbing code and decrease rain water inflow into KUB's sewer system.
In the past, the U.S. has reached similar agreements with numerous municipal entities across the country including Mobile and Jefferson County (Birmingham), Alabama; Atlanta; Miami; New Orleans; Toledo and Hamilton County (Cincinnati), Ohio; and Baltimore, Maryland.
The proposed consent decree with KUB is subject to a public comment period and final court approval before becoming effective.