New Orleans sewerage, water board to reinstate program to improve sewage system damaged by Hurricane Katrina

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WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 27, 2010--The Sewerage & Water Board of New Orleans has agreed to reinstate its comprehensive program -- stalled for several years in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- to make extensive improvements to reduce or eliminate sewage overflows into the Mississippi River, Lake Pontchartrain and its storm drainage canal system, the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today.

According to a Clean Water Act settlement filed today that modifies a 1998-agreement, the Sewerage & Water Board, which operates the publicly owned treatment works that serves the citizens of New Orleans, has agreed to continue to repair its antiquated sewage collection system. Prior to 1998, the system had been overwhelmed causing overflows of raw sewage into waterways and streets of New Orleans. Those efforts were put on hold for several years due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

"For many years, until Hurricane Katrina, the Sewerage & Water Board was making great strides in repairing its outdated collection system in compliance with the 1998 agreement," said Ignacia S. Moreno, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "We are pleased that, despite the devastating effects of the hurricane, the board has agreed to continue its aggressive remediation program in order to protect the public health and make the waterways safe for the people of New Orleans."

"We have agreed on an aggressive plan which will greatly help New Orleans' system deliver better service to residents while it protects the environment," said EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz. "Protecting America's waters is a priority at EPA. We are pleased the Sewage & Water Board shares our strong commitment to clean water."

As part of its ongoing remediation program, estimated to cost more than $400 million from its inception in 1998, the board has agreed to repair all of its 62 pump stations damaged by the hurricane, as well as any other hurricane damage in the portions of the collection system served by those pump stations. By no later than July 2015, the board will complete additional studies required by EPA and make all necessary repairs and upgrades to its collection system, including measures designed to provide dependable electrical services at its treatment plant in the event of a future catastrophic event.

The board will also design and implement a new preventive maintenance plan to inspect and clean its sewer lines and pump stations to prevent sewage overflows, and will continue efforts under its sewage overflow action plan designed to minimize the impact of such overflows on the environment.

In addition, now that the system serves only about 60 percent of people that it served before Katrina hit, the board has agreed to report each year on population changes and to evaluate any need for increased capacity for its pump stations, force mains and treatment plant.

The 1998 agreement resolved a 1993 lawsuit brought by the United States alleging violations of the Clean Water Act including effluent overflows at the East Bank treatment plant and unauthorized discharges from the East Bank Collection System. A coalition of citizens groups under the direction of the Tulane Law Clinic has joined the government in the action and is part of the modified settlement. The state of Louisiana also has participated in this settlement.

The modified consent decree, lodged today in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, is subject to 30-day public comment period and approval by the court. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Justice Department web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

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