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Environmental Enforcement: Dubuque to Pay $3.5m in Clean Water Settlement

The City of Dubuque, Iowa, has agreed to pay a $205,000 civil penalty and spend an additional $3 million on improvements to its water pollution control plant and sewer collection system over the next three years, to settle a series of alleged violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

Dubuque will pay half of the civil penalty to the United States and half to the State of Iowa, which is a co-plaintiff in the case along with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In addition to the $3 million on sewerage improvements, the city has also agreed to spend approximately $260,000 on a supplemental environmental project. The project involves the reconstruction of four alleys that incorporate permeable pavement in their design. According to the EPA, the alleys should help reduce the flow of water into the city’s sewer system.

Dubuque’s alleged violations of its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit date back to the early 1970s, when its water pollution control plant was built. Along with 165 miles of gravity sewer lines, three major pump stations and eight smaller lift stations, the plant comprises a public sewer system that serves the city of approximately 92,000 residents along the Mississippi River.

Dubuque’s violations of its sewerage permit and the Clean Water Act, alleged by the EPA and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, include:

  • Approximately 39 sanitary sewer overflows that occurred between 2002 and 2007. Most of those unauthorized overflows occurred in an area known as the Key Way sanitary sewer system, and involved the pumping of raw sewage into Catfish Creek during major storms. Over the last three years, Dubuque has already spent $2 million to upgrade the Key Way system. Under the consent decree, it must demonstrate that all sanitary sewer overflows have been eliminated for one year, or face additional penalties.
  • Approximately 687 violations of effluent limits for total suspended solids, total residual chlorine and carbonaceous biochemical oxygen demand in its wastewater discharges between 2002 and 2007. The consent decree outlines a number of system and process improvements designed to eliminate run-off problems associated with wet weather, and requires the city to pay stipulated penalties for future effluent violations.
  • Failures to comply with a pretreatment program. Audits in 2005 and 2007 found that Dubuque failed to issue permits to industrial users of its water pollution control plant, failed to take enforcement actions against industrial users that violated terms of their city-issued permits, and failed to follow sampling and reporting requirements of its pretreatment program. Since those audits, the city has hired a full-time pretreatment coordinator.

All upgrades must be completed within 34 months of the consent decree’s effective date.

“What I would acknowledge is the discharges did happen and we’re taking steps now so they won’t happen in the future,” city manager Michael Van Milligen told The Associated Press. “Our timeline is going to be very aggressive and they seem to be very pleased with our approach,”

“[The] EPA is encouraged by the City of Dubuque’s willingness to remedy its longstanding water pollution issues and to improve water quality in the Mississippi River,” EPA regional administrator Karl Brooks said. “This commitment by the city represents a significant step forward toward Dubuque’s goal to be a green city.”

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