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City of Columbia Agrees to $750 Million Sewer Upgrade

11:18 AM, Sep 10, 2013   |    comments
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Columbia, SC (WLTX) - The City of Columbia has agreed to make $750 million in changes to its sanitary sewer system after reaching a proposed settlement with federal and state regulators.

The U.S. Department of Justice, EPA, and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced the agreement Tuesday.

"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 Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.

The agreement settles violations of the Clean Water Act the government says the city committed. Specifically, the regulators had said there were unauthorized overflows of untreated raw sewage.

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles described Columbia's water treatment system as "aging," and says the agreement will improve water quality in the area and in rivers and streams.

"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," Nettles said in a statement.

Here's what the proposed consent decree will do.

  • First, the city must do an assessment and rehabilitation of their current system to address raw sewage that could be overflowing now.
  • Second, the city will take that assessment and develop projects and upgrades to infrastructure to prevent further problems. These programs will add to the upgrades the city already had in progress.
  • Third, the city will create new programs to make sure their water treatment system is properly maintained and operated over the long-term.

The city also will implement a $1 million supplemental project to restore streams, reduce flooding, and improve water quailty in parts of Rocky Branch, Smith Branch, and Gills Creek.

Columbia's situation was not unique; similar agreements have been reached between federal, state, and local authorities in Atlanta, Nashville, and Knoxville.

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