EPA seeks tougher rules on sewage dumping
MMSD official calls proposed standards
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is insisting
on tougher water quality standards in a new five-year
permit proposal for Milwaukee's sewerage district, according
to a letter released Monday during a public hearing.
The new standards would affect how the Milwaukee Metropolitan
Sewerage District measures the impact of dumping raw sewage
into Lake Michigan and local rivers during heavy storms.
The sewerage district is balking at the change, saying
there is no legal authority for the move and that it is
The sewerage district's operating permit expires Dec.
The standard that the district has had to meet was based
on the frequency of sewage dumpings. The district is not
supposed to dump untreated sewage from the combined sewer
area - a large part of Milwaukee and about half of Shorewood
where a single sewer collects rain and waste matter -
more frequently than an average of six times a year.
In the areas where separate sewers collect rain, federal
law prohibits dumping because the sewage is presumed to
be more concentrated.
Since 1994, more than 13 billion gallons of untreated
sewage has been dumped, about a billion of it from areas
where it is prohibited by federal law.
"We are aware of no legal authority for the restriction
proposed in the permit," Kevin Shafer, the district's
executive director, said Monday at the public hearing.
"(It's an) unnecessary imposition of arbitrary restrictions
upon our planning and does not aid us in achieving our
The EPA wants the district to use a computer modeling
program that would show the impact on water quality based
on how much sewage is dumped, not the number of dumping
events. Peter Swenson, speaking for the EPA, said his
office called for the new approach and that the DNR agreed
it was necessary.
"The presumption was that they could design to a certain
level - four to six overflows a year - and that would
meet the water quality standards," Swenson said. "We have
not met those standards."
In other comments made at the hearing, environmentalists
and others said the DNR needs tougher regulations for
the sewerage district and should step up its enforcement
Shafer, however, called for a relaxing of some conditions
in the proposed permit and said some clauses would hinder
attempts to clean up the lake and rivers.
A key issue for both environmentalists and the district
are provisions in the proposed permit that would regulate
the dumping of partially treated sewage into Lake Michigan
from the Jones Island treatment plant.
In the past, the district has dumped partially treated
sewage at both Jones Island and the South Shore treatment
plant during heavy rain.
For the first time, the proposed permit would prohibit
dumping of partially treated sewage at the South Shore
plant. It also would call for hourly sampling of the partially
treated sewage dumped at Jones Island.
Laurel O'Sullivan, a lawyer with the Lake Michigan Federation,
based in Chicago, argued that it was wrong to allow the
district to dump partially treated sewage when the deep
tunnel still had room to store the waste and water. Federal
law requires that dumping occur only when there are "no
feasible alternatives," while the DNR permit would allow
the district to dump sewage according to "good engineering
practices," she said.
Last June, about 21 million gallons of partially treated
sewage was dumped in anticipation of a rainstorm that
never materialized. O'Sullivan cited that as an example
of the system not being used to its capacity. She asked
how the DNR would react to the same incident under the
terms of the new permit.
"I'd have to review the facts," said James Fratrick,
who oversees the district for the DNR.