EPA orders Janesville to comply

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Friday, October 28, 2011
— The city is negotiating an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after the federal agency ordered the city to comply with a component of the Clean Water Act.

The order apparently rose out of past sewer overflows and basement backups, City Manager Eric Levitt said.

But city officials say they are confused by the reasons for the order. Janesville has shown its system is very well managed, Levitt said.

Few sewer backups were reported during the EPA’s time of review, which covers the past five years, Levitt said. Two overflows were reported in a sewer line that has since been corrected, and another happened after a break in a line.

The issues cited by the EPA are not capacity issues, Levitt said.

“The issues are breaks,” he said.

“I am not sure what the issues with Janesville are that rise above the level of other wastewater systems,” Levitt said. “Janesville has shown that our system is very well managed. We’re a little confused why Janesville has been selected for this.

The EPA issued the compliance order before contacting city officials, Levitt said.

The city has hired an attorney to work out an agreement with the EPA. The Janesville City Council would have to approve any compliance agreement.

Aside from Janesville, the EPA also sent compliance orders to Brookfield and Oshkosh, Levitt said. The agency apparently used information from surveys filled out by cities’ water departments in determining its compliance orders, he said.

Key criteria in the order for Janesville appears to stem from the lack of a CMOM—a document a city must generate to show its sewage wastewater capacity, management, operation and maintenance programs. The document would show how the city deals with overflows, Levitt said.

The city already does what is mandated by a CMOM, so it should just have to document that procedure, Levitt said.

“We’re trying to work with them (the EPA) on this administrative order instead of contesting it through the federal judiciary administrative judiciary process,” Levitt said.

The EPA and the city of Brookfield recently agreed to a consent order that requires the city to eliminate all sanitary sewer overflows to its waterways by Dec. 13, 2015. The order could cost the city millions, Public Works Director Tom Grisa recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Though Brookfield has spent tens of millions of dollars in the last decade upgrading its separate sanitary and storm sewers, excessive amounts of stormwater still get into municipal sanitary sewers. This can cause occasional overflows or backups of sewage into basements during extreme storms, Grisa said.

From Jan. 1, 2004, to Feb. 28, 2011, Brookfield reported 46 sanitary sewer overflows to tributaries of the Fox River or Lake Michigan, according to the consent order. Only five of the overflows were caused by contractor error or other problems not related to rainfall, according to the newspaper.

Last updated: 6:38 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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