Clean Water Act agreement announced with Louisville and Jefferson County
The U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. EPA, and Commonwealth of Kentucky's Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet (EPPC) jointly announced on April 25 a comprehensive Clean Water Act settlement with the Louisville and Jefferson County Metropolitan Sewer District (MSD). The settlement ensures that MSD will make extensive improvements to its sewer systems to eliminate unauthorized discharges of untreated sewage and to address problems of overflows from sewers that carry a combination of untreated sewage and storm water at a cost likely to exceed $500 million. Throughout the year, MSD's sewer systems are overwhelmed by rainfall resulting in unlawful discharges of untreated sewage and overflows of combined sewage into the Ohio River and its tributaries
totaling billions of gallons each year.
The Commonwealth filed a civil suit against MSD in state court in February, 2004 and has been negotiating since that time with MSD to reach an agreement. A consent decree, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky in Louisville, represents the combined efforts of both the Commonwealth of Kentucky and the United States, which have entered into this settlement as plaintiff and intervening plaintiff, respectively.
The consent decree will require MSD to: propose and implement specific corrective action plans to bring overflows from its combined sewers that carry a combination of both untreated sewage and storm water into compliance with water quality standards; propose and implement specific corrective action plans to eliminate unauthorized discharges from its sanitary sewers that carry just untreated sewage (the worst discharges, representing approximately 75 percent of the total, must be addressed by no later than 2013); improve its management, operation and maintenance programs to prevent future overflows; and respond
to overflows when they occur.
"This settlement represents a monumental step forward in improving water quality in the Commonwealth of Kentucky," Governor Ernie Fletcher said. "These issues have never been addressed in a meaningful way in Kentucky, and the cooperation of federal, state and local entities was key to moving forward expeditiously. It's a win win win."
"Old sewage systems across our nation allow significant water pollution to occur," said Thomas V. Skinner, EPA's Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "The Louisville settlement is a great example of the progress that can be made when federal, state and local governments work together. Collaboration like this can be a model for other cities to achieve cleaner
MSD was created to provide sanitary sewer and storm water drainage service for residential, commercial, and industrial entities throughout the City of Louisville and Jefferson County, Kentucky. MSD is responsible for the operation and maintenance of six major regional wastewater treatment facilities, 21 minor treatment plants, and approximately 3,000 miles of sewer lines. Approximately 23 percent of these sewer lines are served by a combined system of single pipes that carry both untreated sewage and storm water to the Morris Forman Waste Water Treatment Plant. The remaining 77 percent of MSD's system carries untreated sewage separate from storm water. The capacity of MSD's sewer systems can be overwhelmed after rainfall, resulting in unauthorized discharges averaging 175 million gallons of untreated sewage from the separated system annually. In 2004 alone, however, MSD's separated system experienced over 500 million gallons of unauthorized discharges of untreated sewage. In addition, rainfall events cause combined sewer overflows (or CSOs) of untreated sewage and storm water totaling an average of 4.5 billion gallons annually. These unauthorized discharges and CSOs have affected water quality in the Ohio River and its tributaries, including Beargrass Creek.
The consent decree also requires MSD to pay a civil penalty of $1 million to the Commonwealth of Kentucky and, under Commonwealth supervision, perform $2.25 million in Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs). The purposes of the SEPs are to provide public health screenings for residents of neighborhoods adjacent to the industrialized areas of the western portion of Louisville; perform, or provide funding for groups that will perform, efforts to raise environmental awareness and stewardship for the local and regional community; and convert and reclaim the former Lee's Lane Landfill into an area for public
In the past, the United States has reached similar agreements with numerous municipal entities across the country including Mobile; Jefferson County (Birmingham), Alabama; Atlanta; Knoxville; Miami; New Orleans; Toledo; Hamilton County (Cincinnati), Ohio; Baltimore; and Los Angeles.
The proposed consent decree with MSD is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval before becoming effective.
For more information, go to: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/cwa/louisville.html.
This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.