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Health, Science, Environment

EPA approves $48 million loan to help prevent sewer overflows in St. Louis County

One of many tunnels in St. Louis that collects sewage and rain water.
File photo | Véronique LaCapra | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis and a part of St. Louis County have combined sewer system, which allows sewage and rainwater to collect in the same channels. But heavier rains and declining green spaces have caused these combined sewers to overflow and cause water pollution.

The Environmental Protection Agency is giving the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District a $48 million loan to build pump stations and sewers to help divert stormwater runoff in St. Louis County.

The federal loan funds nearly half of the $97 million cost to construct the series of wastewater projects that will be connected to the Deer Creek Sanitary Tunnel. The 4-mile underground tunnel, which would run through Webster Groves, Brentwood, Richmond Heights and other nearby municipalities, is designed to collect and separate wastewater from sewage. MSD began building the tunnel earlier this year.

Heavy rains in recent years have caused major sewage overflows in St. Louis. Scientific research predicts sewage overflows could become more frequent, as climate change brings heavier rains to the Midwest. That creates pressure for cities that have aging sewer systems, said Jim Gulliford, administrator of EPA Region 7, which includes Missouri.

“The sewer systems in many of our large cities were designed years ago without the realization of just how great these cities would become and what the capacity would be in the future,” Gulliford said. “What’s resulted then in many of our communities — the stormwater, when rainfall occurs, combines with sanitary sewer lines, and it overflows the capacity of systems to treat wastewater.”

A map of the Deer Creek Sanitary Tunnel that the MSD is building in St. Louis County.
Credit Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District
A map of the Deer Creek Sanitary Tunnel that the MSD is building in St. Louis County.

Sewage overflows lead to drain backups in residents’ basements and pollutes waterways. In 2007, the Missouri Coalition for the Environment used the Clean Water Act to sue MSD for discharging runoff into local streams and rivers. The utility is spending $4.7 billion to overhaul St. Louis’ sewer system to comply with a 2012 consent decree that resulted from the lawsuit.

“The more waste we can stay contained and get treated and less to local streamways and out of basements, the better for everyone,” said Tim Snoke, MSD’s secretary treasurer.

MSD officials expect to start building the support system to the Deer Creek tunnel next year. The utility will pay back the loan, acquired through the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, over the next 35 years.

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