Progress Made, But Billions Needed For Sewage Control
The amount of sewage overflow in the United States is diminishing, a report to Congress from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says, but billions will have to be spent over the next 20 years to control two types of overflows, the agency said.
“Impacts and Control of Combined Sewer Overflows and Sanitary Sewer Overflows” calls for an estimated $88 billion to handle combined overflow – sewage and rainfall combined during storms – and $50.6 billion for sanitary sewer overflows alone.
The agency says that 3,500 to 5,500 gastrointestinal illnesses per year on coastal and Great Lakes beaches alone are caused by sewage overflows, and the number is expected to rise when other types of waterways are included.
The Association of Metropolitan Sewerage Agencies (AMSA) noted the possibility for “a meaningful federal-state-local partnership” in the report. AMSA is a national trade association representing hundreds of the nation’s publicly owned wastewater treatment utilities that serve the majority of the sewered population in the United States.
The EPA estimates that the annual volume of sanitary sewer overflows is between three and 10 billion gallons–two orders of magnitude smaller than the 311 billion gallon per year figure it had estimated when developing the draft sanitary sewer overflow rule.
With this in mind, the AMSA members are asking for more “a more flexible policy on sanitary sewer overflows” as they say they are making progress and have done well controlling the number of combined sewer overflow events.
AMSA members collectively treat and reclaim over 18 billion gallons of wastewater every day as “environmental practitioners dedicated to protecting and improving the nation’s waters and public health.”
Sewer systems that were built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in U.S. cities in the Northeast and the Great Lakes region overflow when the combined volume of sewage and storm water exceeds the capacity of the systems, which were designed to discharge directly into rivers, streams or coastal waters.
Sanitary sewer systems do not combine storm water with wastewater. Sanitary sewer overflows have a number of causes: blockages, pipe breaks, defects that allow storm water or groundwater to enter the system, inadequate operation and maintenance, equipment or power failures, and vandalism.
Overflows of both types contribute to beach closures, shellfish bed closures and contamination of drinking water supplies because they discharge untreated wastewater that contains microbial pathogens, suspended solids, toxics, nutrients, trash, and pollutants that deplete dissolved oxygen.
Outflow enforcement against seven major municipalities has resulted in the elimination of 14 billion gallons of sewage overflows per year, more than $10.8 million in fines and more than $75 million in environmental improvement projects, the EPA estimates.
Since 2002, EPA has settled sewer overflow cases with Los Angeles, California, Baltimore, Maryland, Baton Rouge, Louisana, and Hamilton County/Cincinnati, Ohio.
Provided by the Environmental News Service.