Environmental Protection

Amended CWA Settlement May Save Indianapolis Millions

The Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the state of Indiana have reached an agreement with the city of Indianapolis on important modifications to a 2006 consent decree that will make Indianapolis’ sewer system more efficient, leading to major reductions in sewage contaminated water at a savings to the city of approximately $444 million.

Prior to 2006, the city and its 800,000 residents experienced combined sewer overflows (CSOs) totaling approximately 7.8 billion gallons per year. Combined sewer systems, which have not been constructed for decades in the United States, carry both sanitary wastewater (domestic sewage from homes, as well as industrial and commercial wastewater), and stormwater runoff (from rainfall or snowmelt) in a single system of pipes to a publicly owned treatment works.

A consent decree approved by a federal court in 2006 required the city to construct 31 CSO control measures, including a 24-million gallon capacity shallow interceptor sewer, to reduce the city’s overflows to approximately 642 million gallons per year. Those improvements were expected to cost approximately $1.73 billion over a 20-year period.

After the 2006 consent decree was approved, the city undertook additional engineering studies of its system and ultimately proposed a number of changes to make the system more efficient and to further reduce the number and volume of overflows. The first change, which was approved in a 2009 amendment to the 2006 consent decree, eliminated the shallow interceptor in favor of a 54-million gallon, 25-mile-long Deep Rock Tunnel Connector.

The second set of changes would be achieved through the amendment announced Nov. 8. With the proposed changes, the city is now expected to reduce the amount of total annual discharge to about 414 million gallons, a significant improvement from the 642 million gallons that were expected under the original consent decree, and reduce the cost of the project by about $444 million.

The project’s modifications would also result in an accelerated construction schedule to capture 7 billion gallons of CSO discharges and their associated disease-causing organisms.

“Only under unique circumstances would we modify the terms of a settlement,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “The proposed modifications will benefit the environment and reduce costs for the city of Indianapolis. In my view, this is a classic ‘win-win’”

A copy of the proposed amendment , which must be approved by a federal court, is available at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

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