Environmental Protection

Kansas City, Mo., to Spend $2.5 B over 25 Years to Stop Overflows

Kansas City, Mo., has agreed to make extensive improvements to its sewer systems, at a cost estimated to exceed $2.5 billion over 25 years, to eliminate unauthorized overflows of untreated raw sewage and to reduce pollution levels in urban stormwater, the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced on May 18.

A consent decree in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, in Kansas City, Mo., requires the city to implement an Overflow Control Plan, which is the result of more than four years of public input. The plan is designed to yield significant long-term benefits to public health and the environment and provide a model for the incorporation of green infrastructure and technology toward solving overflow issues.

When completed, the sanitary sewer system will have adequate infrastructure to capture and convey combined stormwater and sewage to the city’s treatment plants.

“The agreement prioritizes neighborhood sewer rehabilitation projects in the urban core, reducing basement and other sewer backups and thereby significantly improving public health,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

Under the agreement, Kansas City will pay a civil penalty of $600,000 to the United States, in addition to the estimated $2.5 billion it will spend to repair, modify and rebuild its sewer system. The plan is also structured to encourage the city to use natural or engineered “green infrastructure,” such as green roofs, rain gardens and permeable pavement, to minimize stormwater burdens on the improved system.

Kansas City also will spend $1.6 million on a supplemental environmental project to implement a voluntary sewer connection and septic tank closure program for income-eligible residential property owners who elect to close their septic tanks and connect to the public sewer.

The city's sewer system collects and receives domestic, commercial and industrial wastewater from approximately 650,000 people in the city and 27 neighboring satellite communities, including a portion of Johnson County, Kan. The system covers more than 420 square miles, and includes seven wastewater treatment plants, 38 pumping stations and more than 2,800 miles of sewer lines, making it one of the nation’s largest.

Of the 420 square miles covered by the system, 58 square miles mostly within the city’s urban core are presently served by combined sewers, which carry both stormwater and wastewater, and the remainder of the system is served by separated sewers.

Since 2002, Kansas City has experienced approximately 1,294 illegal sewer overflows, including at least 138 unpermitted combined sewer overflows, 390 sanitary sewer overflows, and 766 backups in buildings and private properties. The overflows are in violation of the federal Clean Water Act and the terms of the city’s National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permits for operation of its sewer system.

As part of the settlement, the city has agreed to install disinfection treatment systems at all of its wastewater treatment plants by 2013.

Kansas City’s overflows result in the annual discharge of an estimated 7 billion gallons of raw sewage into local streams and rivers, including the Missouri River, Fishing River, Blue River, Wilkerson Creek, Rocky Branch Creek, Todd Creek, Brush Creek, Penn Valley Lake, and their tributaries.

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