Justice News

Department of Justice
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Monday, April 16, 2012

U.S. and Tennessee Announce Clean Water Act Agreement with the City of Memphis

The Department of Justice, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the Office of the Tennessee Attorney General announced today a comprehensive Clean Water Act settlement with the city of Memphis, Tenn. Memphis has agreed to make improvements to its sewer systems to eliminate unauthorized overflows of untreated raw sewage. Memphis estimates such work will cost approximately $250 million.


“The improvements required by this settlement agreement will bring lasting public health and environmental benefits to Memphis residents,” said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We will continue to work in partnership with the EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act and will work with municipalities across the country to advance the goal of clean water for all communities.”


“The EPA is working with communities across the country to address sewage overflows that negatively impact the health of residents and impair local water quality,” said Cynthia Giles, Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “This collaborative agreement with the city of Memphis will reduce raw sewage overflows, protecting area waterways now and into the future.”


A consent decree, filed today in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee in Memphis, represents the combined efforts of the United States and the state of Tennessee, co-plaintiffs in this settlement, and of the Tennessee Clean Water Network, an intervening plaintiff in this action. The United States and Tennessee previously filed a complaint against Memphis on Feb. 5, 2010, seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties for Memphis’ alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act.


“Sewage overflows are a significant problem that affect water quality in the Southeast and across the entire country,” said Gwen Keyes Fleming, EPA Region 4 Administrator. “This settlement is a collaborative agreement that will result in significant improvements to water quality and provide the Memphis community with a cleaner and healthier environment.”


The major features of the consent decree will require Memphis to i mplement specific programs designed to ensure proper management, operation and maintenance of its sewer systems to eliminate unauthorized overflows of untreated raw sewage. In order to address the problem of grease buildup within the sewer lines, Memphis developed and will be required to implement a comprehensive fats, oil and grease (FOG) program. Furthermore, the consent decree will require Memphis to develop and implement a continuing sewer assessment and rehabilitation program to ensure that the integrity of sewer infrastructure is appropriately maintained to prevent system failures that would likely result in unauthorized overflows. The consent decree will also require Memphis to perform corrective measures in certain specifically identified priority areas.


In addition to the control requirements, the consent decree will also require Memphis to pay a civil penalty of $1.29 million. Half of this amount will be paid to the United States. At the direction of the state, the other half of the civil penalty will be paid by Memphis through the performance of certain state projects. These projects include implementation of improvements to Memphis’ Geographic Information System (GIS) and implementation of an effluent color study to better delineate limits for the color of Memphis’ permitted discharges to the Mississippi River.

“Today's consent decree sets out a schedule that will ensure the city of Memphis moves forward in making the much needed infrastructure changes to its sewer system,” said Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau. “We’ve been pleased with the city's cooperative tone during these negotiations, while working together to ensure a cleaner, healthier environment for the citizens of Memphis.”


“Violations of the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act due to aging infrastructure have become an all-too-familiar occurrence in various parts of Tennessee,” Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper said. “We hope today’s cooperative agreement to improve the Memphis sanitary sewer system will help the overall health of our community, environment and economy.”


Keeping raw sewage and contaminated stormwater 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, including the increased use of green infrastructure and other innovative approaches.


T he United States has reached similar agreements in the past with numerous municipal entities across the country including Mobile and Jefferson County, Ala. (Birmingham); Atlanta and Dekalb County, Ga.; Knoxville and Nashville, Tenn.; Miami-Dade County, Fla.; New Orleans; Hamilton County (Cincinnati), Ohio; Northern Kentucky Sanitation District #1; and Louisville, Ky.


The proposed consent decree with Memphis is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval before becoming effective. A copy of the consent decree lodged today is available on the Department of Justice website at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html .


More information about the settlement is available at www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/cwa/memphis.html .


More information on EPA’s national enforcement initiative is available at www.epa.gov/compliance/data/planning/initiatives/2011sewagestormwater.html .

Press Release Number: 
Updated September 15, 2014