Agreement over St. Louis sewers will cost billions - KMOV.com

Agreement over St. Louis sewers will cost billions

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A proposed $4.7 billion settlement of a lawsuit alleging that the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District violated federal clean water laws could more than double sewer bills for customers across the St. Louis region within the next two decades, the district's executive director said.

A lawsuit filed in 2007 alleges that the sewer district, which serves St. Louis and most of St. Louis County, violated the law by allowing untreated sewage to end up on the ground and in waterways.

The proposed settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Coalition for the Environment and the state of Missouri was announced Thursday. The district said it would spend $4.7 billion over the next two decades to end the lawsuit, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said.

The EPA and the environmental group have agreed to the terms of the consent decree but the state of Missouri did not agree.

A representative of Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster's office said in a statement that "We are not signing the consent decree because we have not been able to reach agreement on all issues we have with MSD."

Sewer district trustees will consider formal approval of the decree next week.

The suit alleged that the district allowed untreated sewage to leave the sewer system and end up on the ground, in creeks, the Mississippi River or River Des Peres.

Jeff Theerman, the district's executive director, told Post-Dispatch editorial writers Wednesday that sewer bills may be more than $80 a month by the end of the decade, mostly to pay for complying with clean-water regulations. Sewer bills are scheduled to rise to about $29 a month in July.

Kathleen Logan Smith, executive director of the Coalition for the Environment, said the decree "gets us from 19th-century engineering to more of a culture of stewardship."

The consent decree requires the district to eliminate by Dec. 31, 2033, all illegal sanitary sewer bypasses that allow sewage to flow into streams or the ground in storms. The district has about 200 such bypasses; it must remove 50 of them by the end of next year.

The district also would be required to complete a program within 23 years to sharply reduce the amount of sewage in the part of its system that combines sanitary and storm water removal. In heavy rainfall, the system is overwhelmed, and untreated sewage makes its way into the Mississippi River and River Des Peres. The district would spend $230 million to reduce flooding in that area.

It also must spend $100 million to reduce and slow down storm water by building such things as rain gardens and pavers that absorb water; spend $1.6 million in five years to remove septic tanks and install or improve lines between houses and sewers at low-income residences, and pay a $1.2 million fine.

MSD operates and maintains 4,741 miles of sanitary sewers and 1,928 miles of combined sewers, some of them more than a century old.

The typical monthly sewer rate will increase to $28.97 on July 1.The district's staff has proposed increasing the rate to $47.29 by July 1, 2015, if voters approve a $945 million bond issue, which would help finance some of the projects in the consent decree. Without the bonds, the monthly bill could increase to $73.59 on July 1, 2015, the Post-Dispatch reported.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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