EPA orders Brookfield to end sewer overflows

Oct. 19, 2011

Brookfield - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has ordered the City of Brookfield to eliminate all sanitary sewer overflows to its waterways by Dec. 31, 2015, and the cost of compliance could be millions of dollars, Public Works Director Tom Grisa said Wednesday.

Full cost of complying with the order and the impact on sewer rates will not be known until required investigations of public and private sewers are completed, Grisa said. He estimates the final price might be less than $10 million if inspections show that 10% or fewer of residential sanitary sewer laterals are contributing to the problem and are in need of repair.

One full year before the December 2015 deadline, Brookfield must stop using emergency pump stations at two sanitary sewer overflow sites that have contributed the largest volumes of untreated wastewater to local streams, under an EPA administrative consent order approved Tuesday by the Common Council.

One pump station and overflow pipe is located at Brookfield Road and Beverly Hills Drive, near Brookfield Academy High School, and discharges to a wetland that drains to the Fox River. The second pump station and overflow pipe is at Cardinal Crest Drive, north of Robinwood St., and discharges to Underwood Creek, a tributary of the Menomonee River.

Though the city has spent tens of millions of dollars in the last decade upgrading its separate sanitary and storm sewers, excessive amounts of storm water still get into municipal sanitary sewers and cause occasional overflows or backups of sewage into basements during extreme storms, Grisa said.

Brookfield is not alone in Wisconsin in facing federal enforcement action aimed at ending the problem, Grisa said. Oshkosh and Janesville this year have been ordered to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows, he said.

Untreated wastewater discharged to waterways in sanitary sewer overflows during heavy rainfalls is a mix of sewage and storm water.

From Jan. 1, 2004, to Feb. 28, 2011, Brookfield reported 46 sanitary sewer overflows to tributaries of the Fox River or Lake Michigan, according to the consent order. Only five of the overflows were caused by contractor error or other problems not related to rainfall.

Source a mystery

Where is the clear storm water coming from?

"That is the multimillion-dollar question," Grisa said.

Much of the flow likely is leaking into sanitary sewers, but the city has made steady progress in fixing publicly owned pipes and manholes, he said. In addition to the tens of millions of dollars spent on sewer upgrades, Brookfield in recent years has been spending about $600,000 annually on maintenance of sanitary sewers and another $1 million annually for maintenance of storm sewers, culverts and ditches.

The next big push will be investigating leaks of privately owned sanitary sewer laterals linking homes and businesses to municipal sewers, according to Grisa.

In 120 days, under terms of the consent order, Brookfield must provide EPA with a plan for studying municipal and private sanitary sewers in the city.

Within two years, Brookfield must submit a report to the EPA showing how it will comply with the order by the end of 2015.

Brookfield this year started asking homeowners in the southeast corner of the city to voluntarily participate in a lateral inspection program, Grisa said. Laterals are tested at no cost to the property owner and the city is offering to pay a share of the costs for repairing any problems identified in the tests.

This week, Brookfield started contacting homeowners northeast of Lilly Road and North Ave. about participating in a similar lateral inspection effort.

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