Sierran Masthead

Many Cities Await New Pollution Discharge Permits

by Sandra Miles
Heartlands Group Chair

As part of its Clean Water Conservation Campaign, the Hoosier Chapter continues to gather data on the status of combined sewer systems in Indiana. "This data will be used to determine which communities face the most serious health threats to their waterways," said Campaign committee member Charlotte Robertson.

There are 108 communities in Indiana with combined sewer systems. The systems carry sewage and storm water in the same pipes. Rainstorms may fill these pipes to capacity, allowing raw sewage to flow into public streams and rivers. Many streams in Indianapolis, for instance, have signs posted warning against human contact with the water because of sewage contamination.

The Clean Water Act has a long-term goal of fishable and swimmable waters. To discharge into waters of the state, a city must have a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. Unfortunately, the existing unreissued permits do not adequately control storm water related overflows of sewage. As permits are renewed, they are to be strengthened to allow less pollution, with the ultimate goal of meeting the Clean Water Act mandate.

Of the 108 combined sewer systems in Indiana, 54 are operating on expired permits, and 6 more have permits that expire before 1999. Many of these have been waiting several years for a permit to be issued by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

The Chapter adopted a resolution on IDEM's inadequate staffing, which it believes adds to the backlog. "The Club is concerned that in its haste to clear up its backlog of expired permits, IDEM will issue one-size-fits-all permits instead of tailoring them to each community," said Lisa Haile, Chapter Chair.

Almost 20 percent of these 108 cities have more than 15 combined sewer overflows (CSOs). The top ten are listed here. Those operating with expired permits are marked with an asterisk:

  • Anderson*, 22, draft permit issued
  • Elkhart, 39, expires Dec. 2001
  • Evansville*, 23, expired 1994
  • Ft. Wayne*, 42, expired 1991
  • Hammond, 20, expires June 1999
  • Indianapolis*, 134, draft permit issued
  • Kokomo*, 37, draft permit issued
  • Muncie*, 25, draft permit issued
  • Peru*, 19, expired 1995
  • South Bend*, 44, draft permit issued

Chapter volunteers met with IDEM and Gov. O'Bannon to discuss concerns regarding CSOs. Heartlands Group participated in hearings and submitted comments to IDEM on the Indianapolis NPDES permit.

"I encourage members to contact IDEM regarding their city CSOs. Tell IDEM that you want a permit that establishes a realistic Long-Term Control Plan to manage these health threats," said Lisa Haile.

Matthew Rueff, Assistant Commissioner
Office of Water Management
100 N. Senate Ave.
P.O. Box 6015
Indianapolis, IN 46206

Copyright © 2007 Hoosier Chapter Sierra Club, all rights reserved.[7/20/02]efp

Summer 1998