COLUMBIA, SC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has signed off on a plan that will force Columbia to upgrade its leaky, spill-prone sewage system during the next 10 to 12 years.
Federal regulators say the city expects to spend some $750 million making utility improvements as part of the agreement, which sets legally binding procedures and dates for Columbia to clean up its act.
City Council approved the plan last month after releasing the proposed enforcement agreement. Federal approvals were needed. The U.S. Department of Justice, the EPA and the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control announced the proposed settlement Tuesday.
The city is being fined nearly $500,000 for a series of sewer spills and pollution law violations during the past five years. It also must spend $1 million cleaning up several major tributaries along the Broad and Congaree rivers.
The proposal is open for public review during the next 30 days. It would become final after the public review period and approval from a federal judge.
“Sewage overflows are a major problem that affect water quality in the Southeast and across the entire country because of aging infrastructure,” said acting EPA regional administrator Stan Meiburg. “Bringing systems like Columbia’s into compliance is one of EPA’s top enforcement priorities, and through this settlement the city is taking positive steps to correct longstanding sewer overflow problems.”
The proposed consent decree requires Columbia to assess and rehabilitate its sewage system to prevent spills, a regular occurrence after heavy rains. Columbia has the state’s largest sewage plant and one of the largest collection systems. Parts of the system are more than a century old.