Indianapolis To Make $1.86 Billion in Improvements to Sewer System To Resolve Longstanding Problems With Overflows

The city of Indianapolis has agreed to make an estimated $1.86 billion worth of improvements to resolve longstanding problems with overflows from its sewer system, the U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) and EPA announced on Oct. 4.

Indianapolis will make the improvements over 20 years to reduce the number of overflows -- which currently occur approximately 60 times per year -- to four or fewer times per year. The city will also pay a penalty of $1,117,800, which will be divided evenly between the federal government and Indiana. The city also will spend $2 million on a supplemental environmental project to eliminate failing septic systems.

Under the consent decree, Indianapolis has specifically agreed to implement a Long Term Control Plan (LTCP) designed to greatly reduce overflows from its combined sewer system (CSOs), and will implement another plan designed to eliminate overflows from its sanitary sewer system (SSOs), and perform various other remedial measures. The consent decree also provides that the city can reduce the portion of the penalty to be paid to the state by undertaking further reductions in the number of failing septic systems. All of these improvements will provide major public health and environmental benefits. The injunctive relief provided under the settlement will be among the highest-cost municipal Clean Water Act settlements to date and will ultimately reduce the volume of Indianapolis' untreated discharges by 7.2 billion gallons in an average year.

"With (this) 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 DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We are pleased that we have reached a resolution to these matters, and that the city has agreed to make the necessary improvements and committed funds to ensure significant improvements to reduce untreated sewer discharges."

"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 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."

"When the city's combined sewer system was engineered about 100 years ago, it was state-of-the-art in wastewater management, but it is not acceptable by today's standards," said Thomas W. Easterly, commissioner of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. "In moving forward with a plan to reduce untreated discharges to the White River and its tributaries, Indianapolis is meeting an important environmental obligation and ensuring cleaner, healthier streams locally, and for downstream communities."

The agreement is related to the city's operation of its municipal wastewater and sewer system, through which approximately 8 billion gallons of untreated sewage is discharged each year into the White River and its tributaries from approximately 133 CSOs, and a lesser number of SSO and bypass locations. DOJ has alleged that these discharges violate the Clean Water Act because they exceed limitations and conditions in the city's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits or are otherwise unpermitted.

Indianapolis owns two large municipal advanced wastewater treatment plants (AWTP), the Belmont AWTP and the Southport AWTP, 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. Approximately 27 percent of the sewer system is a combined system located primarily in the central, older parts of the city. The remaining 73 percent of the sewer system is a sanitary sewer system. The city contracts with United Water, a private corporation, to operate both the treatment plants and the sewer system.

The Department of Justice lodged the consent decree in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana. The consent decree, will be subject to a 30-day public comment period and subsequent judicial approval, is available on DOJ's Web site at

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