The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the city of Tyler, Texas, agreed to significantly upgrade its sanitary sewer system to resolve alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA). The city will also undertake extensive operational improvements to its sanitary sewer system and pay a total of $563,000 in civil penalties.
DOJ, on behalf of the EPA, and the State of Texas, on behalf of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, jointly filed a complaint against the city of Tyler alleging that, since 2005, the city has allowed and continues to allow untreated sewage to overflow from the city’s sanitary sewer system in violation of the CWA and the Texas Water Code. The complaint alleges the city failed to properly operate and maintain its sewer system, resulting in problems including blockages in underground pipes, general system defects and power failures. These problems can impact public health and local water quality by allowing releases of untreated sewage into local waterways and the community. The complaint specifically alleges instances of raw sewage entering into both local waterways and into Tyler residents’ private homes and yards. Many of these sanitary sewer overflows occurred in low-income and minority communities.
“The people of Tyler have experienced sewer overflows for the past decade and deserve those conditions to come to an end,” said Acting United States Attorney Brit Featherston. “This agreement ensures that vital infrastructure, required for the very basic of our citizens’ needs, will be upgraded, and the degradation of the city of Tyler’s sewer system will be halted. The agreement’s key provisions will modernize Tyler’s sewer system, substantially reduce the number of sewer overflows and discharges to local waterways, and protect the environment and the health of the citizens of Tyler.”
“Providing clean, reliable water service is one of the most important responsibilities cities have to their residents,” said EPA Regional Administrator Ron Curry. “Improvements to the city’s treatment of wastewater has direct benefit to citizens.”
To comply with the terms of the settlement and significantly reduce future sanitary sewer overflows, the city must comprehensively assess and improve its sewer system’s physical condition by repairing or replacing damaged assets within a certain time period after their discovery. The city must also analyze sewer system capacity using an updated hydraulic model and undertake a tailored program to implement detailed capacity management, operation and maintenance procedures. The city must keep the public directly informed of its progress when complying with the consent decree by creating a public document repository on the city’s website, where it is required to post any report required by the consent decree and all final EPA-approved plans. The city must also consider, among other things, the location of past sanitary sewer overflows in low income or minority communities when prioritizing the sequence for certain cleaning or remedial work. EPA estimates the combination of these mandated efforts will require the city to spend approximately $65 million over the next 10 years.
Tyler’s entire wastewater collection and treatment system includes 690 miles of main lines, 22 lift stations and over 9,000 manholes as part of its sanitary sewer system, which sends untreated wastewater to two wastewater treatment plants. Tyler’s system serves approximately 32,000 customers and 109,000 people.
Keeping raw sewage out of the community and the waters of the United States is a national priority for EPA, as sewage overflows can present a significant threat to human health and the environment. These discharges can degrade water quality, spread bacteria and viruses and cause diseases ranging from gastroenteritis to life-threatening conditions such as cholera and dysentery.
The settlement, which will be lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, is subject to a federal 30-day public comment period. The State of Texas also has a required 30-day public comment period. The proposed consent decree can be viewed online at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.