Oct 06, 2006

Indianapolis Agrees to $1.8 Billion Sewer Plan

The city of Indianapolis signed a consent decree with the U.S. Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to make more than $1.86 billion in improvements to curb overflows from its sewer system.

The settlement will be the third highest-cost Clean Water Act settlement addressing combined sewer overflows, and will ultimately reduce the volume of Indianapolis' untreated discharges by 7.2 billion gallons in an average year. The combined sewer overflows combine both sewage and stormwater runoff.

Although EPA is not aware of any health problems from sewage overflow in Indianapolis, nationwide, sewer overflows can lead to outbreaks of disease from such substances as E.coli bacteria and cryptosporidium.

"Through this agreement, Indianapolis has shown a real commitment to get rid of its long-standing sewage problems," said Granta Y. Nakayama, EPA's assistant administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "The EPA agreement will not only ensure compliance with the law, it will also benefit the citizens by significantly improving water quality in the White River and its tributaries, which are important natural resources and great assets to the city."

"With today's consent decree, the city of Indianapolis is taking an important step toward complying with the Clean Water Act," said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We are pleased that we have reached a resolution to these matters, and that city has agreed to make the necessary improvements and committed funds to ensure significant improvements to reduce untreated sewer discharges."

Indianapolis will make the improvements over twenty years to reduce the overflows. Currently, the overflows occur about 60 times per year. The plan should reduce that number down to four or fewer per year.

The city will also pay penalties of $588,900 each to the United States and Indiana, and spend $2 million on a project to eliminate failing septic systems. The city may offset up to 90 percent of the state's penalty by spending an additional $1,050,020 on the septic system project.

Under the consent decree, Indianapolis has specifically agreed to implement a Long Term Control Plan designed to greatly reduce overflows from its combined sewer system and will implement another plan designed to eliminate overflows from its sanitary sewer system (SSOs), and perform various other remedial measures.

The agreement is related to the city's operation of its municipal wastewater and sewer system, through which approximately eight billion gallons of untreated sewage is discharged each year into the White River and its tributaries.

The Justice Department has alleged that these discharges violate discharge permits under the federal Clean Water Act.

Indianapolis owns two large municipal advanced wastewater treatment plants, known as Belmont and Southport, as well as nearly 246 square miles of sewers that feed into the treatment plants. The sewer system, which serves approximately 866,000 people, transports the city's sewage for treatment at the two plants prior to being discharged into area rivers and streams.

The settlement has not yet been approved by the federal court.