The U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) have agreed to amend a 2012 Clean Water Act consent decree with the City of South Bend, Indiana.
The amendment requires implementation of a revised long-term plan to reduce and treat sewage and wastewater discharges to meet Indiana’s water quality standard for E. coli. The revised plan will improve public health, better protect the St. Joseph River, a tributary of Lake Michigan, and lower the cost of compliance.
“This amendment provides South Bend time to revise its long-term plan to further reduce and treat sewage and wastewater discharges to meet Indiana’s water quality standard,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “The revised plan and additional time should improve public health and better protect the St. Joseph River, while also lowering costs for ratepayers.”
“This settlement results in a significant reduction in pollutant discharges to the St. Joseph River and Lake Michigan, and also reduces costs for South Bend’s rate payers,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tina Nommay for the Northern District of Indiana. “We thank the federal, state and local authorities who partnered with us to achieve this excellent result.”
“Through the cooperative work of federal, state and local officials, this amended agreement will reduce harmful wastewater discharges to the St. Joseph River and significantly lower costs for the citizens of South Bend,” said Acting Administrator Larry Starfield for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
“This revised Long-Term Control Plan results in a reduction of sewage and wastewater to the St. Joseph River which improves human health and the environment,” said IDEM Commissioner Bruno Pigott. “The revised plan is a great example of the success we can achieve when federal, state and local partners work together to ensure Indiana’s environment is safe for all Hoosiers.”
Prior to 2012, the City of South Bend discharged more than 2 billion gallons of untreated human and industrial sewage and stormwater a year, containing highly concentrated levels of E. coli bacteria through combined sewer overflows, or CSOs, into the St. Joseph River. The 2012 consent decree required South Bend to reduce discharges to 46.9 million gallons per year and reduce E. coli to 15,000 counts per 100 milliliters. While a significant improvement, the E. coli discharge concentrations under the original plan still would have exceeded Indiana’s E. coli water quality standard of 235 counts per 100 milliliters. Under the revised plan that will be fully implemented by 2038, South Bend will treat virtually all of its annual discharge volumes to concentrations below Indiana's water quality standard for E. coli and save hundreds of millions of dollars in compliance costs.
The revised plan includes the following:
- Expansion of South Bend’s current sewage treatment plant
- Construction of three retention treatment facilities
- Replacement or modification of various sewers
South Bend estimates that the revised plan will cost approximately $276 million in 2019 dollars, significantly less than the $700 million or more that South Bend estimates would be the cost to implement the remaining measures required under the 2012 consent decree. South Bend was able to develop the revised plan in large part because it installed more than 150 “smart” sensors at more than a hundred locations in its sewer system to allow it to better monitor and manage its flows. This “smart sewer system” enables South Bend to construct fewer and smaller-sized gray infrastructure measures and, at the same time, achieve a greater level of pollution control.
The proposed amended consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval after it is published in the Federal Register. To view the proposed amended consent decree or to submit a comment, visit the Department of Justice website at: www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.