The city of Chattanooga has reached an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state of Tennessee, and the Tennessee Clean Water Network on a multi-year program "to significantly minimize, and eliminate where possible, sanitary sewer overflows and improve the operation of its sewer system."
The settlement resolves a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of EPA and the lawsuit filed by the TCWN on Oct. 13, 2010, which alleged similar violations.
Chattanooga has agreed to pay a $476,400 civil penalty and make improvements to its sewer systems, estimated by the city at $250 million, to eliminate unauthorized overflows of untreated raw sewage.
Chattanooga also has agreed to implement a green infrastructure plan and perform an $800,000 stream restoration project.
Mayor Ron Littlefield said there will be gradual increases in the sewer charge to fund the 16-year sewer improvement program. He said the current rate of $26.37 per 1,000 gallons is far below Knoxville's $58.63.
The sewer rate is also set to go to $27.68 in October and $28.94 next April.
He said the program will not eliminate the city's combined sewer and water runoff pipes, but he said improvements will be made so that periodic overflows can be cut or eliminated.
Mayor Littlefield said, "We all want clean water. There's a price for clean water.
"We have worked closely with our partners at the federal, state and local levels to develop a comprehensive plan that will augment our existing efforts to identify and repair problem areas within our system. This program will enhance our ability to provide sewer services to the region and augment our ongoing efforts to protect and improve water quality."
“Chattanooga residents will enjoy public health and environmental benefits for years to come as a result of the improvements required by this settlement agreement,' said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The agreement prioritizes neighborhood sewer rehabilitation projects and utilizes innovative stormwater controls in the urban core, reducing sewer overflows and overall reducing threats to public health posed by untreated sewage. This is another example of how we are working toward the goal of clean water for all communities through the vigorous enforcement of the Clean Water Act throughout the United States.”
“The EPA is working with communities across the country to address sewage overflows that impact the health of residents and impair local water quality,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Today’s agreement with the city of Chattanooga will rehabilitate their aging sewer system and promote innovative green infrastructure efforts to reduce stormwater runoff, while increasing green space in communities.”
“Sewage overflows are a significant problem affecting water quality and, ultimately, the health of our communities across the Southeast,” said Gwen Keyes Fleming, EPA Region 4 administrator. “The Chattanooga community will benefit from improved water quality and a cleaner, healthier environment as a result of this settlement.”
“Today's consent decree sets out a schedule that will ensure the city of Chattanooga moves forward in making the much needed infrastructure changes to its sewer system,” said Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau. “We’ve been pleased with the city's efforts and cooperative tone during these negotiations and will continue working together to ensure a cleaner, healthier environment for the citizens of Chattanooga.”
“We have seen far too many violations of the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act due to aging infrastructure across the state,” said Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper. “We hope this cooperative agreement to improve Chattanooga’s sewer system will improve the quality of our environment and economy.”
Organized in 1952, the city's Interceptor Sewer System serves the city and a surrounding metropolitan area which together have a population of approximately 400,000, encompassing about 200 square miles. The city's Interceptor Sewer System comprises approximately 1,268 miles of sewer lines, some of which date back to the 1890's. It also includes 70 miles of combined sewers, 72 custom-built pumping stations, eight combined sewer overflow treatment facilities and one major regional wastewater treatment plant (Moccasin Bend WWTP). In addition to the city, the Interceptor Sewer System serves the following suburban utilities and municipalities: Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Authority, which includes the cities of East Ridge, Lakesite Lookout Mountain, Ridgeside, and unincorporated areas of Hamilton County in Tennessee; the cities of Collegdale, Fort Oglethorpe, Ringgold, and Rossville; the town of Lookout Mountain; and parts of Catoosa County, Dade County, and Walker County in Georgia.
Each of these regional systems are also in the process of working with EPA, through a voluntarily agreement, that requires an assessment of their sewer programs, in order to reduce SSOs as well as to reduce the amount of inflow and infiltration that these systems contribute to the Moccasin Bend WWTP.
The city's investment in addressing overflows began in the 1990's when it spent more than $8.5 million on inflow and infiltration control projects, $15 million on capacity enhancement projects, and $25.8 million on the expansion of the Moccasin Bend WWTP. With respect to combined sewer overflows, Chattanooga's efforts pre-date EPA's 1994 CSO control policy. From 1992-2001, Chattanooga spent over $40 million on projects to either separate sewers or re-engineer its CSOTFs. From 2003-2010, Chattanooga spent another $13 million on five additional CSO projects.
Highlights of the comprehensive $250 million plan include:
· Conduct an audit of the city's Capacity, Management, Operations & Maintenance program;
· Continue to perform comprehensive sewer surveys in five priority sewer basins in the first five years (phase I) and 24 basins in the remaining 10 years (phase II);
· Complete a series of early action capital projects in the first five years designed to address inflow and infiltration and other capacity related issues in the sewer system and improve efficiencies at the Moccasin Bend WWTP;
· Complete an assessment and develop, if necessary, a rehabilitation plan for the East Bank and West Bank outfalls;
· Complete an update to the city's Long-Term CSO Control Plan, including developing an additional operational control plan for the Chattanooga Creek CSOTF outfalls and conduct post-construction compliance monitoring for the CSOTFs that discharge to Chattanooga Creek;
· Develop a green infrastructure plan;
· Increase public notification about SSOs, including through the city's website; and
· Reduce basement backups and develop an enhanced emergency response plan to better handle backups.
According to Renée Victoria Hoyos, TCWN’s executive director, "This mutual partnership between EPA, the State, TCWN and Chattanooga will help protect the health of the Tennessee River and its tributaries, and the people who use and enjoy them. We applaud the city for its commitment to environmental stewardship."
The agreement also provides for $800,000 to be spent on a supplemental environmental project, $238,200 for a state environmental project, and a $238,200 civil penalty paid to the federal government.
The environmental projects, which are to be completed in a five-year timeframe, include:
· EPA SEP - Conduct a stream restoration project near Agawala Drive involving over 1,500 linear feet of a tributary of South Chickamauga Creek designed to significantly improve water quality of the tributary and South Chickamauga Creek. The goals of the project include improving the ecological function of the stream, enhancing the hydrologic floodplain, and eliminating a significant contributor of sediment and total suspended solids ("TSS") in an impaired stream.
· State Project - Retrofit a portion of the Highland Park neighborhood with green infrastructure - through the use of green infrastructure practices such as streetscapes, pervious pavement, tree boxes, bio-swales and bio-retention facilities – in order to improve water quality in an impaired stream (Dobbs Branch, which flows into Chattanooga Creek).
Prior to entering into the settlement, the city conducted a series of public outreach programs designed to solicit input from the public, particularly from those citizens in low income and minority areas. The city, along with representatives from EPA and the State, made presentations and held listening sessions on April 16, 2012, at the Development Resource Center and on April 19, 2012, at the Multi-purpose Room of the Brainerd Recreation Center.
The document will be available for public review and comment in approximately two weeks. After the 30-day public review period, the agreement is finalized.
The city of Chattanooga is the last of the large cities in Tennessee that have had to address these issues through a settlement with EPA. Knoxville (2004), Nashville (2007), and Memphis (2012) have all entered into similar settlements with EPA in the last decade.