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City Set To Implement Consent Decree on Longstanding Sewer Overflow Problems

City of Peoria
A map of areas where sewage overflow enters the Illinois River during heavy rainfall events in Peoria.

After 14 years of negotiations, it appears the City of Peoria and the U.S. EPA have struck a deal on a consent decree outlining a course for the city to correct the combined sewer overflow issues that have long plagued it.

The city council is slated to vote Tuesday on approval of an agreement with the federal regulator over the longstanding problem, wherein raw sewage flows into the Illinois River following heavy rainfall events.

Each year, the city issues 20 to 30 health warnings following heavy rains for swimmers, boaters, and fishermen downstream of Detweiller Marina, due to the quantities of dangerous bacteria released during a combined sewer overflow (CSO) event.

Though a copy of the full proposed consent decree isn't yet available for review, it would include the city paying a $100,000 civil penalty. If approved, the city and U.S. EPA would outline an 18-year timeline for the city to correct the issues. 

It includes more reliance on so-called "green" infrastructure to reduce discharges and outflows into the river. This includes installing rain gardens, pervious pavers, and other measures throughout the city's CSO area, funded in part by a new stormwater utility fee on residents and businesses approved by the city council in 2017.

The plan is considered both more environmentally-friendly and less costly than relying on more traditional "gray" infrastructure, such as pipes and tanks.

The city also would report storm flows and rainfall more regularly to the U.S. EPA and Illinois EPA, and solicit public input for creating a new "CSO Remedial Measures Program."

The CSO issue dates back to the 1880s, when drainage pipes carried both stormwater and sewage out into the Illinois River. Many older parts of the city close to the riverfront are still relying on these underground systems, including the North Valley, downtown area, and South Side.

The city spent more than $10 million to correct the problem in the 1980s and early '90s to reduce the  average yearly overflow volume from 840 million gallons to 160 million gallons.

But in 2006, the U.S. EPA mandated more action after deeming the Peoria CSO area was environmentally sensitive. Settlement negotiations between the city, Greater Peoria Sanitary District, and state and federal environmental regulators over Clean Water Act violations have been ongoing since then.

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.