Federal judge approves revised agreement for Smart Sewer Program
(Kansas City, Mo.) – Welcome news for KC Water customers concerned with years of escalating wastewater rates. A federal judge recently signed the long-negotiated Third Amended Consent Decree agreed upon by the City of Kansas City, Missouri, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice, which focuses on reducing wet weather overflows from the City’s sewer systems.
“We are thrilled to announce this achievement,” said Kansas City Manager Brian Platt. “A lot of people put in a lot of hours over the past three years to make this happen. This is a great milestone, but there is still a lot of work ahead of us,” Platt continued.
“When I came into office, renegotiation of the EPA consent decree was a top priority,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said.
“Since August 2019, I have met with our federal elected officials, administrators and rate payers with concerns about being able to afford their increasing bills. Kansas City staff has been working on this project for many years prior.
Today, I am proud to share details of our consent decree agreement, which will save Kansas Citians millions over the long term and achieve our climate sustainability goals. By using green infrastructure and working with neighborhoods, we are reducing overall costs of this program and protecting our environment. Thank you to Congressman Cleaver, Senator Blunt and our entire bi-state Congressional delegation for advocating for Kansas Citians and working to make this a reality,” Mayor Lucas added.
The original Consent Decree dates back to 2010 and required Kansas City to reduce the volume and frequency of wet weather sewer overflows into the environment. It was originally planned as a 25-year, $4.5 billion – $5 billion program that resulted in dozens of important improvement projects, but it also started several years of double-digit wastewater rate increases for KC Water customers.
“We recognize the financial impact the Smart Sewer program has had on our customers and we don’t take that lightly,” said KC Water Director Terry Leeds.
This Amendment allows the City to use newer technology to reduce overflows from the sewer system. The City also has more opportunities to use green infrastructure to deliver a high level of wet weather control and multiple community benefits at a smaller cost. All of this means less dependency on large gray infrastructure, which would continue high rate increases to support the program. Future wastewater increases are expected to remain moderate.
The City intends to raise rates 6 percent or less annually to fund its wastewater system improvements to comply with the modified decree and maintain our current infrastructure.
“We were able to show the EPA that Kansas City’s median household income didn’t keep up with projections which resulted in a high financial burden on many of our customers. This modification reduces the scope and costs of the program through 2035,” Leeds said.
Several people, including federal and local lawmakers, wastewater and stormwater experts, and citizens who made their voices heard, played a role in advocating for changes to the consent decree. Members of Congress on both sides of the party lines, responded, including U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) and U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO).
In 2018, both Sen. Blunt and Congressman Cleaver urged the administration to support modifications to the Kansas City sewer overflow control program to help protect Kansas City residents from costly utility rate increases.
“I’m glad that the changes announced will bring relief to those who need it most without hampering Kansas City’s progress in completing the largest public works project in its history,” Sen. Blunt said after the EPA’s announcement of the third amendment modification.
“I applaud the renegotiation of the overflow control program Consent Decree. The proposed modification comes at a moment when many Kansas Citians are collectively working to navigate the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic and looking for relief,” said Congressman Cleaver in his news release.
The modification eliminates the requirement for some very expensive projects, such as underground storage tunnels through 2035, and extends the final compliance date from 2035 to 2040.
More information about the consent decree can be found here.https://www.kcsmartsewer.us/approach/third-amended-consent-decree
More information about the Smart Sewer program, projects and initiatives can be found here: https://www.kcsmartsewer.us/home-smartsewer.
More information about the first 10 years of progress can be found here: https://www.kcsmartsewer.us/about/10-years-of-progress.
For more information, please contact Heather Frierson, Media Relations Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org, 816-513-0280.
KC Water maintains and operates water treatment and distribution systems, stormwater management systems, and wastewater collection and treatment systems for residential and business customers in Kansas City and for wholesale customers in the Kansas City area. KC Water is primarily funded by fees charged to customers based on their use or impacts on the three utility systems.