News Feature | February 20, 2019

After 7 Years Under Consent Decree, Jackson, MS Still Struggling With Sewage Overflow

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

It’s not uncommon for the U.S. EPA to step in when local wastewater operations struggle to adequately remove pollutants before releasing effluent into waterways. In Mississippi, however, even that federal intervention has failed to yield enough progress.

Jackson, Mississippi, has been under an EPA consent decree since 2012 as its main wastewater operation has tried to improve treatment despite aging infrastructure. But recently it’s been clear that things aren’t improving quickly enough.

“EPA records, based on quarterly reports submitted by the city, reveal Jackson’s main water treatment facility, the Savanna Wastewater Treatment plant, released nearly 3 billion gallons of minimally treated sewage — enough to fill about 4,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools — into the Pear River over a six-month period last year,” according to the Clarion Ledger. “The prohibited ‘bypass’ between January and June totaled 2.65 billion gallons. Another 4.5 million gallons of sewage flowed out of manholes or collapsed sewer lines from January through September, eventually making its way to Jackson waterways that flow into the Pearl River.”

The director of the local public works is reportedly focused on renegotiating the consent decree to determine more realistic standards from the city’s perspective. According to the report, the city estimates that it could cost twice the $400 million that was originally proposed for it to meet the terms of the current consent decree.

Meanwhile, the city has hired an engineering firm to help with some of the main problem areas in its wastewater treatment approach. This includes reducing fats, oils and grease (FOG) and replacing sewer lines.

In addition, Jackson will be seeking to renegotiate with the EPA and determine new standards.

“City and federal officials are to meet later this month or in March to renegotiate the consent agreement terms,” per WAPT.

If Jackson can’t improve its wastewater treatment approach and can’t renegotiate with the EPA, it may face some significant consequences.

“The city could be fined from $500 to $2,000 a day for violations of the Clean Water Act, which could quickly run into the hundreds of thousands and even millions of dollars,” per the Clarion Ledger. “The worst-case scenario would be the EPA going to court to put the city in receivership, a situation in which the federal agency takes over management of a city’s water and sewer department and makes all financial decisions, including the awarding of contracts and the setting of water and sewer rates.”

To read more about how municipal wastewater systems comply with federal rules, visit Water Online’s Wastewater Regulations And Legislation Solutions Center.