The U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) announced a proposed settlement today with the City of Columbia to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA), including unauthorized overflows of untreated raw sewage. Columbia has agreed to undertake a thorough assessment of, and implement extensive improvements to, its sanitary sewer system at an estimated cost of $750 million.
In addition, Columbia will implement a $1 million supplemental environmental project to restore streams, reduce flooding, and improve water quality in segments of Rocky Branch, Smith Branch and Gills Creek, waterways that run through historically low income and minority neighborhoods.
“This settlement will bring badly needed improvements to Columbia’s aging sewer infrastructure, reduce the dangers of sewage contamination and improve the quality of waterways in historically disadvantaged communities,” said Robert G. Dreher, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. “It is good news for human health and the environment of South Carolina’s capital city today and for future generations.”
“In this settlement, the city of Columbia has taken responsibility for its aging sewer treatment system,” said U.S. Attorney for the District of South Carolina Bill Nettles. “The city’s leadership and engineers have worked many long, hard hours with the engineers at the EPA and the Department of Health and Environmental Control in hammering out a solution that addresses the problems in the City sewer system, improves the quality of our rivers and streams, and the health and safety of South Carolinians for decades to come. For that we are grateful.”
“Sewage overflows are a major problem that affects water quality in the Southeast and across the entire country because of aging infrastructure,” said Acting EPA Regional Administrator Stan Meiburg. “Bringing systems like Columbia’s into compliance is one of EPA’s top enforcement priorities, and through this settlement the City is taking positive steps to correct longstanding sewer overflow problems.”
“We are pleased this matter has been resolved through a consent decree, rather than costly litigation,” said DHEC Director Catherine Templeton. “This agency will continue to work closely with the City of Columbia and our federal partners to ensure the agreed-upon improvements are realized, and the health of the citizens and environment are protected.”
The proposed consent decree requires Columbia to implement a comprehensive sewer system assessment and rehabilitation program to address the existing problems of raw sewage overflows. Based on the sewer system assessment, the City will develop and implement remedial projects and infrastructure upgrades to address conditions causing sewer overflows. These remedial projects will be in addition to infrastructure upgrades already underway or planned by Columbia, which the consent decree also requires to be completed. Lastly, the city will develop and implement specific programs designed to ensure proper management, operation and maintenance of its sewer system over the long-term to prevent future sewer overflows.
Keeping raw sewage out of the waters of the United States is one of the EPA’s national enforcement initiatives for 2011 to 2013. The initiative focuses on reducing sewer overflows, which can present a significant threat to human health and the environment. These reductions are accomplished by obtaining cities’ commitments to implement timely, affordable solutions to these problems.
The United States has reached similar agreements in the past with numerous municipal entities across the Southeast, including Mobile and Jefferson County (Birmingham), Alabama; Miami-Dade County, Fla.; Atlanta and Dekalb County, Ga.; Northern Kentucky Sanitation District #1, Louisville/Jefferson County MSD, and Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, Ky.; Jackson, Miss.; Wilmington/New Hanover County/Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, N.C.; and Memphis, Knoxville Utilities Board, Chattanooga and Nashville MWS, Tenn..