The U.S. Department of Justice will soon seek public comments on an amendment to a 2012 agreement that would revise how the city of South Bend treats its water for E. coli bacteria.
The agreement stems from alleged violations of the Clean Water Act by South Bend that allowed 2 billion gallons of untreated sewage and stormwater containing high levels of E. coli bacteria to enter the St. Joseph River yearly prior to 2012.
South Bend entered into an agreement with the state of Indiana and the U.S. in 2012 to resolve those allegations and prevent possible future violations.
The proposed amendment would adjust the agreement requirements for the city’s long-term plan to meet state E. coli water quality standards, reducing the price tag by more than $400 million. The revision would also give the city more time to carry the requirements out.
State and federal officials said the revision would improve public health and better protect the St. Joseph River, a tributary of Lake Michigan, as well as reducing the burden on taxpayers.
“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 Indiana Department of Environmental Management 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.”
The revised plan sets new deadlines for South Bend to undertake a series of water infrastructure improvements, including the expansion of the city’s current sewage treatment plant capacity to 100 million gallons per day; construction of three retention treatment facilities and the replacement or modification of various sewers.
The 2012 agreement required $713 million in capital improvements to the sewer system by the end of 2031, but the city renegotiated the consent decree.
The city convinced the federal government to agree to South Bend’s $276 million Smarter Alternative for a Greener Environment plan, which the city said uses data and analytics from Smart Sewers sensor network to exceed federal combined sewer overflow requirements.
According to South Bend, the city will reduce E. coli in water by 12% more than the original agreement called for, almost eliminating the city as a source of bacteria for the St. Joseph River. The city will also now capture and treat 99.6% of combined sewage generated during wet weather events, compared to 89% previously.
“This new agreement will result in significant savings for the ratepayers of South Bend. I am grateful to our state and federal partners for helping to make this new agreement a reality,” said South Bend Mayor James Mueller. “I also want to thank and congratulate our city team for their work in developing this plan and ensuring we exceed the high standards necessary to keep the St. Joseph River safe and clean.”
The city will still be required to obtain state permits for pollution discharge and prepare semiannual progress reports until the agreement requirements are fully met.
The city must also abide by the agreement whether or not it can secure funding or face daily fines.
The Justice Department is accepting public comments on the proposed consent decree until Sept. 25 via email or mail at: Assistant Attorney General, U.S. DOJ—ENRD, P.O. Box 7611, Washington, DC 20044–7611.