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Peoria Unveils Proposed Terms of Combined Sewer Overflow Consent Decree

City of Peoria

The city of Peoria and U.S. EPA have finally reached a tentative agreement to settle federal allegations that the city's combined sewer overflow violates the federal Clean Water Act.

A copy of the full proposed 116-page consent decree among the city, Greater Peoria Sanitary District, state of Illinois and the federal government was released early Thursday morning.

About 160 million gallons of raw sewage still flows into the Illinois River annually after heavy rainfalls or snow melts.

The city spent more than $10 million in the 1980s and early '90s to cut overflow down from around 840 million gallons annually. But in 2006, the U.S. EPA said that outflow remained unacceptable for the Peoria area, due to its environmental sensitivity. Negotiations have dragged out since then.

Under the proposed consent decree, the remaining overflow would be virtually eliminated by 2039.

"We are moving towards almost 100 percent reduction of our CSO volume," said City Manager Patrick Urich. "So we have milestones built into the consent decree that will require us to put in green stormwater infrastructure projects through the year 2034, then wrap up with some storage projects toward the end of the milestones that we have."

The above-ground "green" solutions to the city's CSO problem, like more bioswales and rain gardens to absorb and redirect stormwater, will cost around $109 million over the course of the 18-year consent decree. That's significantly less than the so-called "gray" solution--a half billion dollars to add a second interceptor along the riverfront.

Annual maintenance fees will come out to about $3.5 million a year after the 18-year process wraps up, Urich said.

The first $15 million tranche of the stormwater overhaul will likely be funded through a revolving loan program offered by the Illinois EPA. But city residents should still expect an impact to their wallets in the years to come.

"Ratepayers inside the city of Peoria, beginning in 2023--not beginning any sooner--would probably begin at an annualized basis of $5.50," Urich said. "And then it would go up from there as we continue into the program."

The city council will meet during a special meeting at noon next Tuesday to vote on approval of the consent decree. Urich said the federal court process will probably take another six months after that.

The city also will pay a $100,000 civil penalty as part of the decree.

The consent decree mandates the city gather community input for what new green solutions look like, whether it means more dry wells, bioswales, permeable pavers, or other methods. Urich said that process won't begin in earnest until the middle of next year, most likely.

The city's CSO problem impacts older areas of Peoria--namely, the South Side, downtown, and North Valley areas. Combined sewer and stormwater systems originally built in the 1880s sent both forms of waste out into the Illinois River. Modern construction methods now separate those two systems to avoid the issue of raw sewage flowing into the river. 

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Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.