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City of South Bend agrees to improve sewer system to address Clean Water Act violations

Release Date: 12/29/2011
Contact Information: Ryan Holmes (DOJ) 219-937-5666

Settlement Expected to Reduce Annual Raw Sewage Discharges by 95 Percent

Hammond, Indiana- The United States Attorney’s Office and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that the City of South Bend, Indiana has agreed to make an estimated $509.5 million worth of improvements to its combined sewer system to significantly reduce overflows of raw sewage to the St. Joseph River, which is a tributary of Lake Michigan. One well-known stretch of the St. Joseph River in South Bend, the East Race, is the site of an annual international kayaking competition and also is where Olympic kayakers and rescue workers periodically train.

The improvements that South Bend will implement to its sewer system under the consent decree announced today will provide major public health and environmental benefits. Currently, South Bend annually discharges into the St. Joseph River a total of over 2 billion gallons of untreated sewage during 80 events. After implementing the improvements required under the settlement, South Bend will reduce the number of raw sewage discharge events by 95 percent to only four during a typical year of rainfall. The reduced discharges will result in preventing over 700,000 pounds of pollutants from entering the St. Joseph River each year. The State of Indiana is a co-plaintiff and a signatory to the proposed consent decree.

South Bend's combined sewer system collects and conveys to South Bend's wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) storm water, sanitary sewage, and other pollutants from the City of South Bend and other portions of St. Joseph County, Indiana, an area covering approximately 14,000 acres of land, with a service population of approximately 107,000 people. South Bend's sewage collection system, consisting of approximately 550 miles of pipe, conveys storm water, sewage, and other pollutants to the city's WWTP. During wet weather events, and during some dry weather time periods, a portion of the sewage that flows through South Bend's combined
sewers is not conveyed all the way to the WWTP; instead the raw sewage is discharged into the St. Joseph River through some or all of 36 outfalls.

Combined sewer systems are designed to transport sewage, industrial wastewater, and storm water runoff in the same pipes to wastewater treatment plants. During periods of heavy rainfall, the volume of wastewater traveling through a combined sewer system can exceed the capacity of the treatment plant. Resulting overflows, called Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs), contain not only storm water but also pollutants such as untreated human and industrial waste, toxic materials, and debris. CSOs pose risks to human health, threaten aquatic habitats and life, and impair the use and enjoyment of the nation's waterways.

The Justice Department and EPA alleged that South Bend's CSOs violated the Clean Water Act because they exceeded limitations and conditions in South Bend's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits during the relevant time periods. The settlement requires South Bend to pay a civil penalty of $88,200 for those Clean Water Act violations, which will be divided equally between the United States and the State of Indiana. South Bend also has agreed to spend a minimum of $75,000 on a supplemental environmental project to reduce pollutants in Bowman Creek, a tributary of the St. Joseph River.

"By substantially reducing the volume of untreated sewage and pollutants entering the St. Joseph River, this settlement will improve water quality and protect the health of people who use that river," said United States Attorney David Capp. "South Bend is making a major investment in improving its sewage collection and treatment system that will pay off in better protection of public health and a cleaner river."

"This consent decree requires South Bend to prevent the flow of raw sewage into the St. Joseph River," said EPA Region 5 Administrator Susan Hedman. "When the city completes the work required under this settlement, the water will be cleaner and healthier for those who paddle and fish in the river."

"The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) is pleased to have worked with EPA, the U.S. Attorney's Office, the Indiana Attorney General's Office, and the City of South Bend to ensure an effective agreement for dramatically reducing overflows from South Bend's combined sewer system," said IDEM Commissioner Thomas Easterly. "South Bend residents can be proud that the city's action today will result in significantly better protection of local waterways and significant long-term benefits for residents and communities downstream."

"It is important in reaching environmental settlements that the agreement be fair to all sides but most importantly ensure that going forward the public will be protected, which this settlement does. South Bend has agreed to uphold its water quality responsibilities and correct a longstanding problem, and we were pleased to work with our state and federal colleagues to bring this legal process to a conclusion," Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller said.

Today's settlement is the latest in a series of Clean Water Act settlements that will reduce raw sewage discharges into the United States' rivers, streams, and lakes. Keeping raw sewage and contaminated storm water out of the waters of the United States is one of EPA's National Enforcement Initiatives for 2011 to 2013. The initiative focuses on reducing discharges from sewer overflows by obtaining cities' commitments to implement timely affordable solutions to these problems, including the increased use of green infrastructure and other innovative approaches.

This case was handled by the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Indiana. Wayne Ault, Assistant U.S. Attorney, and Gary Prichard, EPA Associate Regional Counsel, served as counsel for co-plaintiff United States and Elizabeth Admire, an attorney for IDEM, served as counsel for co-plaintiff State of Indiana. The consent decree was lodged in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. The consent decree will be subject to a 30-day public comment period and subsequent judicial approval, and will be available on the Justice Department website at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html