WWTA Enters $300 Million Consent Decree; To Pay Almost $600,000 Fine

  • Friday, September 29, 2023

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) announced today a Clean Water Act settlement with the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority (WWTA). A consent decree was lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee in Chattanooga and resolves the claims identified in a joint federal and state complaint filed with the consent decree. The settlement will resolve WWTA’s liability for Clean Water Act violations, including unauthorized overflow of untreated raw sewage at locations in the WWTA wastewater collection and transmission system and bypasses of treatment at WWTA’s Signal Mountain wastewater treatment plant. Under the consent decree, WWTA will undertake a thorough assessment of, and implement extensive improvements to, its sanitary sewer system and the wastewater treatment plant. In addition, WWTA will pay a civil penalty of $598,490 to be equally divided between the United States and the State of Tennessee.

“Sewage overflows and sewage bypasses are major problems that affect water quality in the Southeast and across the entire country,” said EPA Acting Regional Administrator Jeaneanne Gettle. “Bringing systems like Hamilton County WWTA’s into compliance is one of EPA's top enforcement priorities.”

“This settlement will protect water quality in the Tennessee River and its tributaries in Hamilton County,” said Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti. “I commend WWTA for resolving this case and ensuring cleaner water for Tennesseans to enjoy.”

WWTA owns and operates a sanitary sewer system serving over 30,000 sewer customers. The system includes one sewage treatment plant, the Signal Mountain wastewater treatment plant, and a wastewater collection system that is composed of over 5,000 miles of sewer collection lines, 60 pump stations, and associated equipment.

Inadequacies in WWTA’s separate sewer systems’ infrastructure and management programs have resulted in unlawful discharges of millions of gallons of untreated and partially treated sewage into streams in the Hamilton County area. The sewage discharges have affected the Tennessee River and many streams that drain to the Tennessee River.

The major features of the consent decree relating to the sanitary sewer system will require WWTA to evaluate the capacity, design, and condition of the components of its sanitary sewer system and develop and implement remedial measures to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs). Prior to implementing these measures, the public will be given the opportunity to comment WWTA’s proposed plans. In addition, the consent decree requires that WWTA take remedial action to eliminate bypasses at the Signal Mountain treatment plant. All work under the Consent Decree must be completed within 20 years. WWTA is further required to upgrade its management, operation and maintenance programs to prevent future overflows and respond to overflows when they occur. The total estimated cost of remedial and compliance measures required under the Consent Decree is $300 million.

The proposed consent decree with WWTA is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. A copy of the consent decree lodged today is available on the Department of Justice Web site at www.justice.gov/enrd/consent-decrees.

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