A new EPA guidance promises flexibility in enforcing sewage overflow limits on cash-strapped cities who can not afford to upgrade their systems.
"The Obama administration trumpeted a record $4.7 billion settlement with St. Louis over the city's chronic sewer overflows in August, calling it 'historic in its scope and importance.'
But St. Louis officials were less enthusiastic, releasing a statement highlighting the near-tripling of local sewer and water rates the agreement would spur over 10 to 15 years. As the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District put it: '[T]his is billions of dollars that will come from the pocketbook of St. Louis ratepayers -- with little to no state or federal assistance -- and will be unavailable for other critical needs in our community'.
Such laments from local officials have trailed the decade-old federal crackdown on municipal sewer systems that during heavy rains funnel untreated wastes into waterways in violation of the Clean Water Act. The settlements have forced cities to spend billions of dollars to rebuild sprawling networks of pipes that in some cases date to the 19th century.
U.S. EPA now says it feels the cities' pain. Nancy Stoner, the agency's water chief, issued a guidance late last week instructing regulators to use 'flexibility' afforded under current policy when forcing cities to repair, upgrade and expand creaky wastewater and stormwater systems."