Environmental Enforcement: St. Louis Sewer District to Pay $4.7B in Settlement

by | Jun 7, 2011

The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) has agreed in principle to spend $4.7 billion over the next two decades, including a $1.2 million fine, to end a four-year-old suit that alleged the agency violated federal clean water laws, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The settlement comes some years after the EPA, joined by the Coalition for the Environment, filed notice of violations to the MSD, which  handles sanitary and storm water disposal for St. Louis and most of St. Louis County.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency notice of violation said that the MSD had more than 300 unauthorized, constructed sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), and that discharge from the SSOs, when activated, had not been reported to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources or the EPA. The citation said that discharges from the constructed SSOs contained untreated sewage which entered into urban streams, including Coldwater Creek, Deer Creek, River Des Peres, Creve Coeur Creek, Grand Glaize Creek, Fee Fee Creek, Malin Creek, and Watkins Creek.

MSD told EPA inspectors in 2006 and 2007 that it does not have a program in place to identify and monitor the activation of each constructed SSO location. However, at the time of the filing in 2007, MSD had conducted some overflow monitoring for the EPA at 40 of SSO locations, and found that nearly 21 million gallons of sewage was discharged during the period of review. The EPA extrapolated this data from the 40 metered sites across all 300 SSO sites, to makes the charges that an estimated 226 million gallons of untreated sewage entered annually into the receiving waters from an estimated 2,772 discharge events.

Additionally, said the EPA in the notice of violation, the majority of the SSOs are located in residential neighborhoods, public parks and other publicly accessible location with no warning sign to alert the public to avoid these areas because of contamination from untreated sewage.

MSD trustees will consider formal approval of the case settlement this week. Some of the provisions, as listed by the Post-Dispatch, require the district to:

• Pay a fine of $1.2 million.

• Eliminate, by Dec. 31, 2033, all illegal sanitary sewer bypasses that allow sewage to flow into streams or the ground in storms. Eliminate 50 of them by the end of 2012.

• Complete a program within 23 years to sharply reduce the amount of sewage entering the oldest parts of the sanitary and storm water removal system, and spend about $230 million to reduce flooding in that area.

• Spend $100 million on a Green Infrastructure Program in the combined sewer area to reduce and slow down storm water with rain gardens and pavers that absorb water.

• Spend $1.6 million within five years to remove septic tanks and install, rehabilitate or repair lateral lines between houses and sewers at low-income residences.

MSD’s total budget for the fiscal year that closes this month is $336.6 million, and the upgrades associated with the agreement could more than double sewer bills, according to MSD, reported in the Post-Dispatch.

An MSD budget proposal submitted online in May 2011 calls for $377.6 million for fiscal year 2012 (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012), an operational increase of 3.7 percent, addressing the need to invest more than $6 billion in system upgrades to the aging sewage system.

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