County Settles SSOs Complaint with $290 M in Repairs

The Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government in Kentucky has agreed to make extensive improvements to its sewer systems, at a cost estimated to exceed $290 million, to eliminate unauthorized overflows of untreated raw sewage and reduce pollution levels in urban stormwater.

The Urban County also will pay a civil penalty of $425,000 to the United States and implement two federal and two state environmental projects valued at $2.73 million that will provide additional environmental benefits to the Lexington community.

The settlement was announced March 14 by the U.S. Justice Department, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and Kentucky's Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet (EPPC). The consent decree, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky in Lexington, resolves the joint federal and state complaint filed in November 2006.

The settlement "represents a significant commitment by LFUCG to address its aging sewer systems for the long term and bring much needed protection to human health and the environment in the Lexington area," said Ronald J. Tenpas, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

The Urban County owns and operates a sanitary sewer system, which includes two major wastewater treatment plants, serving a population of almost 250,000. It also owns and operates a separate storm sewer system that collects urban stormwater. Inadequacies in its sewer systems' infrastructure and management programs have resulted in unlawful discharges of millions of gallons of sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) into streams in the Lexington/Fayette County area and increased pollution levels in urban stormwater.

These discharges have adversely affected water quality in area streams, including Town Branch, Hickman and Elkhorn creeks, Cane Run, Wolf Run and Blue Springs Branch. These streams ultimately drain to the Kentucky and Ohio rivers.

The major features of the consent decree relating to the sanitary sewer system will require the Urban County to

• identify and quantify recurring discharges of untreated sewage and their causes;
• evaluate the capacity, design, and condition of the components of its sanitary sewer system including pumping stations and treatment plants;
• develop and implement remedial measures to eliminate recurring SSOs within 11 to 13 years; and
• improve its management, operation, and maintenance programs to prevent future overflows and respond to overflows when they occur.

In addition, the consent decree contains provisions requiring the Urban County to substantially upgrade its programs to reduce pollution in its storm sewer system, such as establishing a funding mechanism for its stormwater management programs and adopting ordinances to better address sources of pollution.

For its federal projects, the Urban County will restore and preserve approximately 8/10 of a mile of the Cane Run stream at Cold Stream Park, at a cost of $1 million, and manage stormwater runoff at one or more sites in the Lexington area using green infrastructure principles at an estimated cost of about $230,000.

The state projects include eliminating the poorly performing Blue Sky Wastewater Treatment Plant in southeast Fayette County by instead treating that sewage at one of the city's other treatment plants, at an estimated cost of at least $1.3 million, and completing a $200,000 evaluation of flooding problems in Lexington and establishing a funding mechanism that will raise $30 million over a 10-year period to implement flood control projects.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval.

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