Dallas To Spend More Than $3.5 Million In Effort to Keep Stormwater Sewers Clean

The city of Dallas has reached an agreement requiring it to spend more than $3.5 million in a comprehensive effort to decrease the amount of pollution entering the city's stormwater system, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and EPA announced on May 10.

The settlement requires the city to construct two wetlands at an estimated cost of $1.2 million -- one along the Trinity River, and one along Cedar Creek near the Dallas Zoo -- and to pay a civil penalty of $800,000.

The settlement resolves allegations -- first made by the federal government in an EPA order issued in February 2004 -- that the city failed to implement, adequately fund and adequately staff the city's stormwater management program. Under the agreement, the city is required to fill staff positions, inspect hundreds of industrial facilities and construction sites and improve management systems at several facilities.

"This settlement benefits everyone in Dallas by helping to keep the city's rivers, lakes and streams clean. I am particularly pleased that we and the city were able to resolve this matter in a way that improves our urban environment by building water-purifying wetlands along the Trinity River and at the Zoo," said Richard Greene, EPA Region 6 administrator.

Under the settlement, the city is required to have at least 36 people working in the city's stormwater management section, a 25 percent increase over the number of people on staff when EPA issued its order. The consent decree also requires the city to inspect at least 500 stormwater discharge pipes per year, 500 industrial facilities each year and large construction sites every two weeks. Pursuant to the settlement, the city will prepare a formal environmental management system for 12 city-run facilities, including the city's service centers, and then have a third-party auditor review the management systems. EPA plans to conduct a full audit of the stormwater system within the next one to three years.

The first wetland the city will construct will be a 60-acre or larger area along the Trinity River downstream of Sylvan Ave., in the vicinity of the Pavaho pump station. Currently the city pumps stormwater directly from the sump to the Trinity River. This project will use the stormwater to water a wetland that will provide urban green space and filter impurities out of the stormwater before it is reaches the Trinity. Before beginning construction, the city is required to submit a detailed design plan for the wetland to be reviewed by EPA.

The second wetland will be a small wetland along Cedar Creek near the Dallas Zoo. The wetland will be the last in a series of treatment steps designed to treat runoff from a portion of the Dallas Zoo. The system will be designed so that water emerging from the wetland can be returned to the Zoo for use in drip irrigation. As with the wetland along the Trinity River, a detailed design plan must be approved by the EPA before work begins.

City stormwater sewers carry significant amounts of pollution into urban rivers, lakes and streams. City storm sewers can discharge annually as much lead and copper, and as many oxygen- depleting chemicals, as do city sewage treatment plants. When it comes to stream-clogging sediment, storm sewers can discharge ten times the "total suspended solids" that come from sewage treatment plants.

Discharges of stormwater from city storm sewers are regulated by the Clean Water Act. Municipalities must obtain permits for their stormwater discharges. The stormwater management program at issue in this settlement was drafted by the city and made part of the stormwater discharge permit issued by the EPA to the City in 1997.

The proposed consent decree lodged on May 10 is open for a 30-day public comment period. A copy of the consent decree is available on DOJ's Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/open.html.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.

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