Atlanta — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced a Clean Water Act (CWA) settlement with the City of Wilmington, New Hanover County and the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority (Authority) in North Carolina. The proposed settlement set forth in a consent decree will resolve these parties’ liability for violations of the CWA, including unauthorized overflows of untreated raw sewage. The consent decree requires the parties to pay a civil penalty of $300,000 and implement measures to bring the sewer system into compliance.
In 2008, the City and the County transferred its respective sewer systems to the newly formed Authority. Since taking over responsibility for these sewer systems, the Authority has implemented numerous remedial measures to the sewer systems. Pursuant to the proposed settlement announced today, the Authority has agreed to make further improvements to the sewer systems to eliminate unauthorized overflows with the goal of achieving compliance with the CWA. When wastewater systems overflow, untreated sewage and other pollutants can be released into local waterways, threatening water quality and contributing to beach closures and disease outbreaks.
“Sewage overflows are a significant problem in the Southeast because of inadequate and aging infrastructure,” said EPA Acting Regional Administrator, Stan Meiburg. “Through this agreement, the Authority, the City of Wilmington and New Hanover County are taking positive steps in correcting long-standing sewage overflow problems. Ultimately, this will benefit the local community and improve water quality in the Cape Fear River watershed.”
The consent decree requires the Authority to implement specific programs designed to ensure proper management, operation and maintenance of its sewer systems. In order to address the problem of wet weather overflows of raw sewage from the sewer lines, the Authority will develop and implement a comprehensive sewer system assessment and rehabilitation program. The Authority will also implement certain capital projects designed to remediate known defects in the sewer systems.
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 municipalities’ commitments to implement timely, affordable solutions to these problems, including the increased use of green infrastructure and other innovative approaches.
The United States has reached similar agreements in the past with numerous municipal entities across the Southeast, including Mobile and Jefferson County (Birmingham), Ala.; Miami-Dade County, Fl.; Atlanta and Dekalb County, Ga.; Northern Kentucky Sanitation District #1 and Louisville-Jefferson County MSD, Ky.; Jackson, Miss.; and Memphis, Knoxville Utilities Board, Chattanooga and Nashville MWS, Tenn.
The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval before becoming effective.