St. Louis Sewer District Will Pay $4.7 Billion to Stop Overflows

ST. LOUIS, Missouri, August 8, 2011 (ENS) – In a legal settlement with the United States and an environmental foundation, The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District has agreed to make extensive improvements to its sewer systems and treatment plants, at an estimated cost of $4.7 billion over 23 years.

The improvements are intended to eliminate illegal overflows of untreated raw sewage and to reduce pollution levels in urban rivers and streams.

“This injunctive relief is historic in its scope and importance to the people of St. Louis,” the Justice Department and the U.S EPA said Thursday, announcing the settlement.

The settlement reached between the United States, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment Foundation and the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District, requires MSD to construct three large storage tunnels ranging from two to nine miles in length, and to expand capacity at two wastewater treatment plants.

Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District workers (Photo courtesy MSD)

These controls and similar controls that MSD has already implemented will result in the reduction of almost 13 billion gallons per year of overflows into area streams and rivers.

MSD must develop and implement a comprehensive plan to eliminate more than 200 illegal discharge points within its sanitary sewer system.

Finally, MSD will engage in comprehensive and proactive cleaning, maintenance and emergency response programs to improve sewer system performance and to eliminate overflows from its sewer systems, including basement backups, releases into buildings and onto property.

MSD will also pay a civil penalty of $1.2 million to the United States. The lawsuit was first filed against MSD in June 2007 by the state and federal governments and later joined by the Coalition.

“We are fully committed to vigorous enforcement of the Clean Water Act, and will continue to work in partnership with EPA to advance the goal of clean water for all communities in our nation’s cities,” said Ignacia Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The people of St. Louis, including those who live in minority and low-income communities, will receive tangible, lasting benefits from this significant settlement.”

“St. Louis, America’s Gateway City, grew up alongside the Mississippi. Unfortunately, for too long it treated the river’s tributaries as a dumping ground for sewage,” said EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks said.

“By moving forward with this Clean Water Act settlement, the community is facing its responsibilities,” said Brooks. “This agreement will bring jobs and long-term economic investments while significantly improving the environment for future generations.”

Rain garden absorbs and filters runoff from the parking lot above. (Photo by Shaw Nature Reserve, Missouri Botannical Garden)

The settlement will advance the use of large scale green infrastructure projects to control wet weather sewer overflows by requiring the sewer district to invest at least $100 million in an innovative green infrastructure program, focused in environmental justice communities in St. Louis. These low-income or minority communities have suffered a disproportionate burden from air, water or land pollution.

Green infrastructure such as green roofs, bioretention, green streets, rain barrels, rain gardens and permeable pavement will store, infiltrate and evaporate stormwater to prevent it from getting into the combined sewer system.

MSD, in conjunction with the City of St. Louis economic redevelopment authorities, will transform many vacant or abandoned properties to productive use – helping to revitalize disadvantaged communities and resulting in cleaner air and green space.

MSD will conduct public education and outreach, and collaborate with local residents and neighborhood groups in selecting the locations of green infrastructure projects.

MSD has committed to spending $230 million in a mitigation program to alleviate flooding and another $30 million in an enhanced pipe lining program, both of which are focused exclusively in environmental justice areas.

These programs and the pioneering green infrastructure program of the settlement will further the Department of Justice and EPA’s work to advance environmental justice. (See ENS report: Obama Cabinet Secretaries Sign Environmental Justice Agreement)

In addition to improving its sewer system and treatment plants, MSD will spend $1.6 million to implement a voluntary sewer connection and septic tank closure program for low-income eligible residential property owners who elect to close their septic tanks and connect to the public sewer.

In a statement August 4, the Sewer District said, “As evidenced by MSD’s spending of $2.3 billion over the past two decades to eliminate 300-plus sewer overflows, today’s agreement also reflects the understanding that there has never been any question about the need for continued work to upgrade and modernize the nation’s fourth largest sewer system. Rather, the true question is how quickly this work is completed, which is the driver behind continued increases in monthly sewer bills.”

“While $4.7 billion over 23 years is a very fair agreement when compared to the dozens of other cities across the nation that have been sued by the Federal Government,” said MSD, “the fact remains that this is billions of dollars that will come from the pocketbook of St. Louis ratepayers – with little to no state or federal assistance – and will be unavailable for other critical needs in our community.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.