Fort Smith to launch 12-year, $255M upgrade to watewater collection, treatment systems

Fort Smith, Ark., will upgrade its sewer collection and treatment system over the next 12 years to reduce discharges of raw sewage and other pollutants into local waterways. The city will also pay a civil penalty and invest funds to help low-income areas refurbish the sewer network.

WASHINGTON, DC, Jan. 5, 2015 -- The city of Fort Smith, Ark., will upgrade its sewer collection and treatment system over the next 12 years to reduce discharges of raw sewage and other pollutants into local waterways. This work is expected to cost $255 million plus the cost of routine operation and maintenance. Under a settlement filed in federal court in the Western District of Arkansas, Fort Smith will also pay a $300,000 civil penalty and spend $400,000 on a program to help low-income areas repair and replace privately owned portions of the sewer network.

This agreement resolves alleged Clean Water Act violations related to Fort Smith's failure to properly operate and maintain its sewer collection and treatment system. Since 2004, the city has had more than 2,000 discharges of untreated sewage from its municipal sewage system, resulting in more than 119 million gallons of raw sewage flowing into local waterways, including the Arkansas River. These types of discharges, known as sanitary system overflows (SSOs), cause serious water quality and public health problems. Fort Smith also violated limits for discharges of various pollutants from two other wastewater treatment plants numerous times over the last decade.

Many of the manholes and pump stations from which Fort Smith's SSOs occur are in low-income and minority communities. To cut sewage discharges, the city will conduct a comprehensive assessment of its sewer system to identify defects and places where stormwater may be entering the system. It will also repair all sewer pipe segments and manholes that are likely to fail within the next 10 years, develop projects to improve its sewers' performance and implement a program to clean the system of debris like grease and tree roots, which can exacerbate sewage discharges. Fort Smith will also implement a water monitoring program to determine whether human waste is entering and being discharged from its stormwater system.

The implementation of the consent decree will reduce discharges of 3,492 pounds of total suspended solids, 3,343 pounds of biological oxygen demand, 543 pounds of nitrogen, and 78 pounds of phosphorus from the Fort Smith sewage system each year. High levels of these pollutants can reduce oxygen levels in waterbodies, which can threaten the health of aquatic plants and animals. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water causes algae to grow faster than ecosystems can handle. Large growths of algal blooms contribute to the creation of hypoxia or "dead zones" in waterways where oxygen levels are so low that most aquatic life cannot survive.

See also:

"Flow monitoring project concludes in city of Fort Smith"

"Odor control system commences operation at Arkansas wastewater plant"

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