EPA: Dubuque to pay fine, upgrade sewer system after Clean Water Act violations

After long-lasting violations, city to prevent future sewer overflows, make other upgrades

The City of Dubuque has agreed to pay a $205,000 civil penalty and spend an additional $3 million on improvements to its water pollution control plant and sewer collection system over the next three years to settle a series of alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act, according to an EPA news release.

As part of the settlement outlined by a consent decree lodged today in U.S. District Court in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the City of Dubuque will pay half of the civil penalty to the United States, and half to the State of Iowa, which is a co-plaintiff in the case.

Dubuque has also agreed to spend approximately $260,000 on a supplemental environmental project. The project will involve the reconstruction of four alleys that incorporate permeable pavement in their design, which will help reduce the flow of storm water into the city’s sewer system.

“EPA is encouraged by the City of Dubuque’s willingness to remedy its longstanding water pollution issues and to improve water quality in the Mississippi River,” Regional Administrator Karl Brooks said. “This commitment by the city represents a significant step forward toward Dubuque’s goal to be a green city.”

Dubuque’s violations of its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit date back to the early 1970s, when its water pollution control plant was built. Along with 165 miles of gravity sewer lines, three major pump stations and eight smaller lift stations, the plant comprises a public sewer system that serves the city of approximately 92,000 residents along the Mississippi River.

Dubuque’s violations of its NPDES permit and the Clean Water Act identified by EPA and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources include:

  • Approximately 39 sanitary sewer overflows which occurred between 2002 and 2007. Most of those unauthorized overflows occurred in an area known as the Key Way sanitary sewer system, and involved the pumping of raw sewage into Catfish Creek during major storms. Over the last three years, Dubuque has already spent $2 million to upgrade the Key Way system. Under the consent decree, it must demonstrate that all sanitary sewer overflows have been eliminated for one year, or face additional penalties.
  • Approximately 687 violations of effluent limits for total suspended solids, total residual chlorine and carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand in its wastewater discharges between 2002 and 2007. The consent decree outlines a number of system and process improvements designed to eliminate exceedences associated with wet weather, and requires the city to pay stipulated penalties for future effluent violations.
  • Failures to comply with a pretreatment program. Audits in 2005 and 2007 found that Dubuque failed to issue permits to industrial users of its water pollution control plant, failed to take enforcement actions against industrial users that violated terms of their city-issued permits, and failed to follow sampling and reporting requirements of its pretreatment program. Since those audits, the city has hired a full-time pretreatment coordinator.

The consent decree sets forth a series of schedules for the city’s completion of the various projects to improve its sewer system. All upgrades must be completed within 34 months of the consent decree’s effective date.

The consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval before it becomes final.

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