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City of Tyler approves plan to evaluate/upgrade wastewater infrastructure

Press Release For Immediate Release Nov. 9, 2016

The City of Tyler has approved a draft agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to make wastewater collection system upgrades, and to enhance the City’s existing programs for inspections, maintenance and cleaning of the wastewater system. The agreement, known as a Consent Decree (CD), comes after a seven year negotiation over the city’s aging wastewater infrastructure and resulting wastewater overflows. Since 1998, the City has been actively working to satisfy increasing EPA regulation on wastewater systems.

“We believe that the plan we’ve put together as part of this agreement is the best path forward for our community,” said City Manager Ed Broussard. “Over the next several years, we will complete a detailed analysis of the system to determine areas where frequent overflows and blockages occur.”

On December 1, 1917, the City of Tyler purchased the privately owned Tyler Sewer Company which included 62,877 linear feet, or nearly 12 miles, of sewer mains in sizes ranging from 4- inches to 10-inches in diameter. Today, the City owns and maintains over 690 miles of sewer mains in sizes ranging from 6-inches to 54-inches in diameter and more than 9,000 manholes, as well as 22 lift stations and serves over 32,000 customers. In total, these pipes, manholes and lift stations make up the City’s wastewater collection system that conveys untreated wastewater from all parts of the City to one of two wastewater treatment plants. As wastewater infrastructure ages, weather and soil conditions may cause pipes and manholes to crack and break. Sewer pipes also experience blockages from grease, roots and other debris that can cause overflows. And, as cities grow, certain segments of the sewer system may no longer be adequately sized to carry the expected wastewater flows generated in that area.

“Like many American cities, we are entering an era where we must intensify our investment and rehabilitation of the wastewater systems bequeathed to us by earlier generations,” said Broussard. “These updates will take time, but we have already begun implementation.”

Many of the provisions outlined in the CD are already in place, including capital improvements identified by the Tyler Water Utilities’ Master Plan and routine inspection and replacement of sewer mains and manholes. Under the CD, the City of Tyler will implement an EPA program called Capacity, Management, Operation and Maintenance (CMOM). As part of the CD, new assessments of the wastewater system’s capacity and condition will determine the necessary level of future investment, repair and improvement.

“In 2001, the EPA sought to adopt a rule requiring all US cities to develop and implement a CMOM program in order to establish EPA’s standard for proper operation and maintenance,” said Jim Mathews, legal counsel for the City of Tyler. “However, The White House declined to go along with the EPA and the rule never took effect. Since that time, however, the EPA has sought to implement the program through threat of litigation.”

Through the implementation of the CMOM program, the City of Tyler will endeavor to eliminate and prevent wastewater overflows within the system, as mandated by the EPA. In 2001, as part of the preamble to its proposed CMOM Rule, EPA noted that even municipal collection systems that are operated in an exemplary fashion may experience unauthorized discharges under exceptional circumstances. The agency further recognized that, notwithstanding the best design and optimal operation and maintenance efforts, some discharges may occur that are beyond the reasonable control of system operators.

In anticipation of the CD, the City of Tyler has made steady improvement to its wastewater system through capital projects, the addition of staff, and increased maintenance and repair. The City satisfied a previous administrative order with the EPA in 2005 through the completion of a system-wide evaluation, the purchase of a vacuum truck and TV camera truck to enhance maintenance and the completion of projects that included a man-hole rehabilitation, sewer line replacement, point repair of sewer lines and sewer service lines in public rights-of-way. Since 2014, the City of Tyler has added 10 new water utility staff. The City has invested $56.6 million in wastewater infrastructure and maintenance since 1999. The assessments are scheduled to begin once the Consent Decree becomes effective in spring 2017. Funding for the CMOM program will come from the Tyler Water Utilities’ rate structure, and was factored into the adopted utilities rate increase in October. As part of the CD, Tyler will pay $281,500 to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and $281,500 to the EPA in settlement for past wastewater overflows. An additional $30,000 will be paid to the Texas Attorney General.

“We cannot definitively determine the costs to upgrade our current system until the assessments required by the CD are complete,” said Lisa Crossman, utilities engineer. “However, our most recent estimate is around $28.5 million.”

The EPA does not provide money, either in the forms of loans or grants, to cities ordered to upgrade their wastewater system.

The settlement will be lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, subject to a 30-day public comment period and approval by Federal court. The City of Tyler will notify the public of this comment period at the time it is lodged.