South Bend, Ind., to Improve Sewer System After Clean Water Act Violations

Dec. 30, 2011

Settlement expected to reduce annual raw sewage discharges by 95%

The United States Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 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.

One well-known stretch of the St. Joseph River in South Bend, the East Race, is the site of an annual international kayaking competition and also is where Olympic kayakers and rescue workers periodically train.

The improvements that South Bend will implement to its sewer system under the consent decree announced will provide major public health and environmental benefits. Currently, South Bend annually discharges into the St. Joseph River a total of over 2 billion gal 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% to only four during a typical year of rainfall. The reduced discharges will result in preventing more than 700,000 lb 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 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 plant. 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 plant; instead the raw sewage is discharged into the St. Joseph River through some or all of 36 outfalls.

Combined sewer systems are designed to transport sewage, industrial wastewater and storm water runoff in the same pipes to wastewater treatment plants. During periods of heavy rainfall, the volume of wastewater traveling through a combined sewer system can exceed the capacity of the treatment plant. Resulting overflows, called combined sewer overflows (CSOs), contain not only storm water but also pollutants such as untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials and debris. CSOs pose risks to human health, threaten aquatic habitats and life, and impair the use and enjoyment of the nation's waterways.

The Justice Department and EPA alleged that South Bend's CSOs violated the Clean Water Act because they exceeded limitations and conditions in South Bend's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits during the relevant time periods. The settlement requires South Bend to pay a civil penalty of $88,200 for those Clean Water Act violations, which will be divided equally between the U.S. and the state of Indiana. South Bend also has agreed to spend a minimum of $75,000 on a supplemental environmental project to reduce pollutants in Bowman Creek, a tributary of the St. Joseph River.

"By substantially reducing the volume of untreated sewage and pollutants entering the St. Joseph River, this settlement will improve water quality and protect the health of people who use that river," said U.S. Attorney David Capp. "South Bend is making a major investment in improving its sewage collection and treatment system that will pay off in better protection of public health and a cleaner river."

Source: EPA

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