The Unified Government and Environmental Protection Agency have reached a settlement on overflowing untreated sewage and also for stormwater pollution reduction in Kansas City, Kan.
The plan calls for an initial $20 million worth of work to be done in the first five years, and further issues will be addressed later by the UG and EPA, according to Bob Roddy, UG director of public works.
An EPA spokesperson, Kris Lancaster, said most of the activity in this phase is engineering work, and long-term projects will be identified at a later date. The UG will be implementing a storm water management plan, according to the EPA. As part of the agreement, an overflow control plan will be developed by September 2016 and will have to be approved by the EPA.
EPA filed a complaint alleging violations of the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Justice Department acted as EPA’s attorney, and a consent decree sets forth the path to correct the violations, Lancaster said.
Most of the initial $20 million is already budgeted and in the UG’s capital maintenance improvement program budget, Roddy said.
After the five-year survey of the system is done, a significant capital investment will be needed, the extent of which is not known at this time, he said. “It will become apparent between the five-year period and what is agreed to between UG and EPA.”
Essentially an unfunded mandate on the local government, the sewer and stormwater work will not receive any federal grants. But there will be a lower-cost federal loan available through a revolving loan fund that the UG may use, and then will have to repay, Roddy said.
The EPA has cited aging sewer and stormwater systems in cities throughout the United States, and the National Conference of Mayors has spoken during the past year about the need for help in funding these orders, and the need for more time for municipalities to address them. It was reported last year that Mayor Joe Reardon went to Washington, D.C., to testify in favor of the cities.
At that time, UG officials had been quoted as saying the cost to the community of this project overall could be more than the UG’s annual budget. Roddy declined to estimate any total amount today, and said that the future costs are not known at this time, but would be expected to be more than this initial $20 million.
The agreement announced today is a positive for the UG, as it will have more time.
“We’re relatively happy about this agreement,” Roddy said. “It doesn’t set a deadline. It doesn’t commit us to the drastic amount of money we’ve seen in other communities, and it gives us time to plan.”
The UG will be able to create and look at various plans to see what investments it can make to match the financial capabilities of the community, compare plans and negotiate in the future with the EPA to maximize investments with the environment, which are also reflective of the ability of the community to pay, Roddy said.
“We think the agreement is good for the community and it gives us time to plan and that we don’t commit to something that is not affordable,” Roddy said. “And yet we are certainly aware that we should be good stewards of the environment.”
Much of the work will be in existing sewer systems and treatment plants, Roddy said. One project at the Kaw Point treatment plant will add disinfection to the plant, and a second will improve the salt and saline program at that plant, he said. Both are big-ticket items.
“The focus of the first four years will be east of I-635, where combined sewer systems are located,” Lancaster said. This is generally the oldest area of the city, he said.
The EPA stated that the Unified Government has had more than 450 illegal sewer overflows from the sewer system since 2004. Raw sewage was discharged into the Missouri and Kansas rivers and streams, according to EPA. This in turn can cause serious water quality problems and health issues, EPA stated.
Stormwater is everywhere, throughout the entire county, Roddy said. Treatment plants, even though they are located east of I-635, serve the entire area, he added.
According to a UG spokesman, the UG Commission has voted to approve the federal consent decree.
The UG stated that the main points of the agreement are to develop the sewer overflow control plan by September 2016 with EPA approval; implement about $20 million worth of ongoing sewer projects; implement UG’s approved nine minimum controls program for management and maintenance of the combined sewer system; implement an enhanced operation-maintenance program for UG’s sanitary sewer system; implement UG’s approved storm water management plan; develop a utility-wide information management system; implement UG program to control discharges of fats, oil and grease to the sewer system; pay reasonable penalties for incomplete or tardy performance by UG. EPA has not sought any penalties at this time, the UG stated, and will address that when the overflow control plan is submitted in 2016.
According to the EPA, the partial settlement announced today was reached March 21 in U.S. District Court for Kansas is subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by the federal court. The decree is online at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.