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City of Fort Smith, Arkansas Settlement

(Washington, DC - January 5, 2015)  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Justice and the state of Arkansas announced that the city of Fort Smith, Ark. will spend more than $255 million plus the cost of routine operation and maintenance over the next 12 years on upgrades to its sewer collection and treatment system to reduce discharges of raw sewage and other pollutants into local waterways.

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Overview of Company

The City of Fort Smith owns and operates a separate sanitary sewer system, which includes the Massard and P Street wastewater treatment plants and the wastewater collection and transmission system. Fort Smith’s system consists of 500 miles of sewer lines and 23 pump stations.

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Fort Smith violated Section 301 of the Clean Water Act and terms and conditions of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, which set limits for how much of a certain pollutant an entity is allowed to discharge into a waterbody. Fort Smith’s alleged violations include:

  • frequent discharges of raw sewage to the Arkansas River, and
  • failure to prevent sanitary sewer overflows through proper operation and maintenance of its system.

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Injunctive Relief

The proposed consent decree includes specific requirements to address separate sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), occasional unintentional discharges of raw sewage from municipal sanitary sewers. Fort Smith will conduct a comprehensive assessment of its sanitary sewer system to identify defects and sources of inflow and infiltration that lead to stormwater reducing the available capacity needed to convey wastewater. The city will fix or replace all sewer pipe segments and manholes that have been identified as likely to fail within the next 10 years. In addition, Fort Smith will evaluate and develop projects to address sewer capacity deficiencies. Fort Smith will also develop and implement a capacity, management, operation, and maintenance program which includes comprehensive system cleaning and a grease and root control program, to minimize SSOs caused by operation and maintenance deficiencies. The total cost of implementing these measures could exceed $255 million plus the cost of routine operation and maintenance.

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Environmental Justice

Many of the manholes and pump stations from which SSOs occur repeatedly are located in areas with low income and minority populations. When the injunctive relief is implemented, the settlement will help reduce the direct exposure of these communities in Fort Smith to sewage discharges.

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Enhanced/Next Gen Compliance

Under the decree, Fort Smith will take samples from its storm water outfalls during dry and wet weather, and test them for a variety of pollutants, including but not limited to, “human indicators” (such as ibuprofen) to determine whether human sewage is entering into the storm water system, and discharging through storm water outfalls.

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Pollutant Reduction

Through the implementation of the proposed consent decree, the following estimated annual pollutant reductions will result:

  • 3,492 pounds of total suspended solids;
  • 3,343 pounds of biological oxygen demand;
  • 543 pounds of total nitrogen; and
  • 78 pounds of total phosphorus.

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Health and Environmental Effects

  • Total suspended solids (TSS) – TSS indicates the measure of suspended solids in wastewater, effluent or water bodies. High levels of TSS in a water body can diminish the amount of light that penetrates the water column and reduce photosynthesis and the production of oxygen.
  • Biological oxygen demand (BOD) – BOD is an indirect measure of the biologically degradable material present in organic wastes. High BOD means there is an abundance of biologically degradable material that will consume oxygen from the water during the degradation process. It may take away oxygen that is needed for aquatic organisms to survive.
  • Nutrients - Excess levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in waters can produce harmful algal blooms. These blooms contribute to the creation of hypoxia or “dead zones” in water bodies where dissolved oxygen levels are so low that most aquatic life cannot survive.

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Civil Penalty

Fort Smith will pay a civil penalty of $300,000, and perform a supplemental environmental project (SEP) valued at a minimum of $400,000 to repair and replace leaking private laterals for low-income residential homeowners whom quality for the program. The SEP will help to reduce the potential exposure of residents living in low-income portions of the city to raw sewage.

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State Partner

The State of Arkansas is a co-plaintiff.

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting comments is available at the Department of Justice website.

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For more information, contacts:

Joanna Citron Day
Water Enforcement Division
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW (Mail Code 2243A)
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-5568

James Zimny
Water Enforcement Division
1200 Pennsylvania Ave., NW (Mail Code 2243A)
Washington, DC 20460
(202) 564-6551

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