ST. LOUIS The Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) today announced the launch of Project Clear, MSD’s 23-year, $4.7 billion initiative to plan, design, and build system-wide improvements to address water quality and alleviate many wastewater concerns in the St. Louis region. The overall initiative is the result of MSD’s consent decree with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. Project Clear will also provide clear, current information and collaborate with the community in MSD’s efforts to protect public health through effective wastewater management strategies.
“For MSD, Project Clear is about three central goals: Clear Priorities, Clear Communications and Clear Water,” said Lance LeComb, spokesperson for MSD.
Project Clear will involve several types of projects across the St. Louis area, ranging in scale from massive underground tunnels to carry the volume of water needed in a growing region with more paved surfaces, to the disconnection of residential downspouts from the wastewater sewer line.
Project Clear’s initial objective is removing rain from the wastewater sewer system in order to address basement backups and sewer overflows, and improve water quality for the whole region.
Much of the excess water that contributes to backups and overflows comes during storms, heavy rain or significant snow melt, through downspouts, sump pumps, and area stormwater drains that are connected directly to the wastewater sewer. In most cases, removing these connections from the wastewater sewer is so important to dealing with these problems that MSD will remove them at no cost to property owners.
“These issues are complex,” says LeComb. “For example, homeowners with stormwater connections from their driveways and downspouts into the wastewater system are not always the ones experiencing a basement backup. Gravity and topography decide who is affected, and it can often be someone else far downstream who is impacted by all that excess water in the wastewater system during a wet weather event. This is one of the reasons much of Project Clear’s public-facing efforts will be to ‘Get the Rain Out’ of the system.”
LeComb offered another everyday example: According to Global Water Instrumentation, during a minor rain event every 10′ x 10′ section of roof or driveway with a direct connection to the wastewater system can be adding 2,000 gallons of water into that sewer pipe – more than 7 times what the average family discharge into the system on an average day. The pipe, however, was designed to carry only wastewater to a sewage treatment plant, but now in addition to treating wastewater, the system has to transport, clean, and treat all that excess rainwater which instead should be in local streams, creeks, and rivers.
Project Clear will help residents and business owners by communicating a sensible and responsible way to reduce sewer overflows and basement backups in a way that is fiscally prudent and complies with MSD’s consent decree with US EPA. Key components of Project Clear will only succeed through public understanding and support. For example, removing stormwater connections from homes and businesses will require the cooperation of property owners. Another aspect of Project Clear, to build more Rainscaping, or Green Infrastructure, will require new ways of looking at development and the environment in order to make longterm efficacy possible. Individual construction programs, as part of Project Clear, will take time to complete and so robust communications with neighborhoods will be an important part of these efforts.
For more information on Project Clear, visit ProjectClearSTL.org or follow us on Twitter @ProjectClearSTL.
About the Consent Decree
In 2007, the State of Missouri and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) filed a lawsuit against MSD regarding overflows. The Missouri Coalition for the Environment later joined the lawsuit as an intervener. Throughout MSD’s service area, there are hundreds of points where a combination of stormwater and wastewater discharges into local waterways from the wastewater sewer system during moderate to heavy rainstorms. These sewer overflow points act as relief valves when too much stormwater enters the sewer system, and without them, our community could experience thousands of basement backups and/or extensive street flooding.
Though most overflow sites predate MSD’s creation in 1954, they are still our responsibility, and efforts to address the problem must continue. From 1992 to 2011, MSD spent approximately $2.5 billion to remove more than 350 overflows. To address the more than 350 overflows that remain, we must increase our collection and treatment capabilities – an expensive, complicated, and decades long task.
In August 2011, the Department of Justice filed a settlement, or consent decree, requiring MSD to spend a minimum $4.7 billion over the next 23 years to address the issue of overflows and other sewer system improvements.
The consent degree agreement between MSD, the EPA and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment has been accepted by the United States District Court. The consent decree has been entered and went into effect on April 27, 2012.
To learn more about the Consent Decree, please visit www.stlmsd.com/our-organization/organization-overview/consent-decree.
About the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD)
Created in 1954, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) works every day to protect the public’s health and the natural environment through effective wastewater and stormwater management strategies.
MSD is responsible for the public sewer system that homes and businesses connect to through lateral lines. Through a labyrinth of connected sewers, wastewater is transported to one of seven sewer treatment plants – nearly 7,000 miles of sewers in all. That is like going from St. Louis to New York City and back three times! Individual property owners are responsible for another important part of the system, the sewer lateral that connects a home’s plumbing to the public sewer in the street.
MSD repairs and replaces broken pipes and manholes within the public system as part of regular maintenance and operations. As part of Project Clear, customers can help by looking for possible stormwater connections to the wastewater sewer on their property so MSD can disconnect them at no charge. The St. Louis region’s success with Project Clear will only be possible through strong partnerships and clear communications with the public.
Additional press releases
- February 25, 2013: MSD launches Project Clear
- July 25, 2013: Old North Rain Garden marks the first neighborhood-scale rainscaping project in $100 million effort
- September 14, 2013: Project Clear and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville celebrate rain gardens in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood
- November 20, 2013: Tips for keeping your drains and our waterways clear this holiday season