The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

EPA arrives for ‘Year of the River’; fed’s order timely for city to obey Clean Water Act

In City Hall on April 13, 2008 at 3:45 am

Top Cedar Rapids city officials traveled to the regional office of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Kansas City, Kan., last Tuesday to answer a 17-page administrative order citing the city for numerous violations of the Clean Water Act. The EPA order set strict timelines for the city to comply with the law.

Any decision on fines will come later, though the prospect of fines exists, Rob Davis, the city’s engineering manager, said last week.

Two days after the trip, a major flaw in the city of Cedar Rapids’ sanitary sewer system acted up again. More than an inch of rain on Thursday required the city to pump sanitary sewage from sanitary sewer lines in northwest Cedar Rapids into storm water structures from where it enters waterways.

The city has said this is at the heart of what the EPA wants the city to remedy.

Dave Wallace, a project engineer for the city, explained last week that the city has two particularly bad spots in its sanitary sewer system, where breaks in the sewer lines allow too much water in during rains. That infiltration fills the sanitary sewer line and threatens sewer backups into homes. At two spots in northwest Cedar Rapids — E Avenue NW just west of 15th Street NW, and West Post Road just south of E Avenue NW ­– the city has pumps inside manholes to pump the waste water into storm sewers when they sanitary sewers fill up during times of significant rain.

Just like what happened on Thursday.

The good news:

Twenty years ago, Wallace noted, the city had 22 in-manhole pumps at 21 locations in the city. There was more pumping from sanitary sewers into storm sewers in the past.

 A new major sewer interceptor line on the west side fixed many of the problems, and the city’s ongoing lining program of failing sewer lines has fixed other problems, Wallace said.

Yet this year, he said the city will spend $1 million or more to replace a section of sewer line that will allow the removal of one in-manhole pump. A subsequent project, which Wallace said will cost about $500,000, will let the city remove the second in-manhole pumps.

The city has two other such pumps in place, but are rarely used, Wallace said.

The EPA’s administrative order of violation also criticized the city for inadequately reporting overflows of its sanitary sewer system. Additionally, the EPA order faulted the city for failing to monitor industrial sites and storm sewer outlets to see if illegal discharges into the city’s storm water system were taking place. The EPA also said the city had not complied with a public education program to instruct the public what it should not put in storm sewers.

Among those making the trip to the EPA office in Kansas City, Kan., were Dave Elgin, public works director and city engineer, Pat Ball, the city’s utilities director, and Jim Flitz, city attorney.

Chris Whitley, a public affairs specialist with the EPA office in Kansas City, Kan., on Friday characterized the meeting this way: “… (O)ur conversations with the city’s representatives have been constructive and positive to this point, and … we are hopeful that some resolution can be reached.

“… Our general approach is to work with (a party) in hopes of achieving compliance, as that is our ultimate goal.”


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