MMSD to accelerate projects and implement new sewer work to further reduce sewer overflows

Sept. 9, 2002
The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District hopes to accelerate one of its major sewer projects and implement other initiatives as part of a $1 billion plan to reduce sewer overflows in the Milwaukee area.

Sept. 9, 2002 -- The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District has developed a proposal to accelerate one of its major sewer projects and implement other initiatives as part of a $1 billion plan to further reduce the number of sewer overflows in the Milwaukee area, District officials told a State Legislative Committee Wednesday.

At the same time, MMSD Commission Chairman Antonio Riley told members of the Legislative Audit Committee that it is up to the State Legislature to decide whether to enact stricter sewer overflow standards for the Milwaukee area than any other metropolitan area in the United States, and force the District to implement additional storage that would cost more than $2 billion and force the District to double its tax rate.

Forcing the District to implement such a plan would bring little or no improvement in water quality, Riley said. Engineers have determined that sewer overflows make up only up to 15 percent of the current pollutant loadings in Milwaukee-area waterways.

"The legislature can require this action of MMSD," said Riley, who is also a state representative from Milwaukee. "But this comes with a tremendous cost that would only have a minuscule effect on water quality in Milwaukee-area rivers and Lake Michigan. What it would do is a build a massive economic wall around the Milwaukee area that would seriously damage the economic well-being of the metropolitan area."

The State Legislature passed legislation in 1985, which was affirmed in 1995, that directed the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources not to exceed the federal standard of four to six combined sewer overflows allowed per year. This is the number of combined sewer overflows in MMSD's operating permit which MMSD has not exceeded since the Deep Tunnel System was put in operation in 1994.

District officials said a storage estimate compiled by Rust/Harza, a national engineering firm that has worked on wastewater storage systems throughout the country including Chicago's Deep Tunnel System, was based on the June 21, 1997 flood that hit the Milwaukee area with up to eight inches of rain.

It forced a sewer overflow of 1.8 billion gallons. It would require a 35-foot-diameter tunnel that would be nearly 48 miles long and be interconnected with the existing 19-mile Deep Tunnel System. It does not include the estimate of costs for additional capacity at the District's two treatment plants or financing.

The Deep Tunnel System has reduced the number of sewer overflows from an annual average of 50 a year to 2.6 since it was put in operation. In addition, the tunnel system has reduced the overflow volume from an average of 8 billion gallons a year to an average of 1.7 billion gallons a year.

"It is important to understand the cost of this to our individual customers and then to determine the benefits it would provide our rivers and Lake Michigan," said MMSD Executive Director Kevin Shafer. "I agree, we should do whatever possible to reduce the number and volume of overflows as much as possible, but we can never guarantee zero overflows. I would hate to spend billions of dollars in the coming years only to be faced with the same problems in the future."

The District is concerned about the number of sewer overflows in the Milwaukee area and is taking several steps to further reduce the number of overflows, Shafer said.
"Improving water quality is the highest priority for MMSD," he said. "We believe even fewer overflows should be achieved. We are undertaking many initiatives on many fronts to accomplish that goal. It is time to look forward on this issue, rather than continuing to rehash the politically divisive past."

The District's plans include the implementation of a court-ordered stipulation that will increase the system's storage capacity by 116 million gallons, or about 30 percent. Construction recently began on the $131 million Northwest Side Relief Sewer, which will add about 88 million gallons of storage and provide additional capacity to several communities in the northwestern portion of the District's service area.

In addition, Shafer said District officials have determined it can accelerate one of its critical projects and is reviewing other projects to see if they can be sped up to bring about additional conveyance in a shorter period of time.

"As state legislators know, we have to find a balance between the number of projects we can undertake at one time and the amount of taxes collected from residents we serve," he said.
Shafer said MMSD will accelerate its Port Washington Relief Sewer by three years ahead of what is required under the DNR stipulation. The $19 million project, which will begin design in 2003, will add conveyance capacity for north shore communities of Milwaukee County, along with the City of Mequon.

Other projects include a $3.1 million clear water rerouting project, in which the District will identify areas where clear water can be rerouted from combined sewers directly to area waterways, allowing for more capacity in the conveyance system for wastewater. This approach is being used on the reconstruction of the Marquette Interchange with the state of Wisconsin.

In addition, the District is implementing a $12 million upgrade of its instrumentation and control system, which monitors wastewater flows in the conveyance system and at the District's two treatment plants. The project includes installation of state-of-the-art "real time" controls that will provide updated information on system performance every five minutes. The information will help the District maximize existing system capacity during heavy rainstorms.

Shafer said the recent audit conducted by the Legislative Audit Bureau raised several important issues, all of which were already being addressed by the District prior to the start of the audit.

"As with any report card, there are some weaknesses that need to be addressed, and I intend to do the utmost, as the executive director, to make sure these issues are rectified," he said.

Source: Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District,

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