City tees up $337 million in stormwater and sewer improvements to unlock growth, satisfy consent decree

Work is underway to assemble multiple sources of funding to make much-needed stormwater and sewer infrastructure investments that will allow Chattanooga to grow and thrive, address overflows, and satisfy the terms of the city’s consent decree.

The city has multiple ongoing projects that, when complete, will mitigate overflows of Chattanooga’s sanitary sewer system into the Tennessee River. In addition to the environmental benefits, these improvements will allow Chattanooga to continue to welcome new residents while protecting the Scenic City’s critical outdoor resources for future generations to enjoy.

The projects — which include stormwater storage, upgrades to Chattanooga’s wastewater plant, and the replacement of old equipment — are vital in helping the city meet the requirements of the consent decree which Chattanooga entered into with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and the EPA some ten years ago.

What is a consent decree? It is simply an agreement between the federal government and local government meant to correct a violation of federal law to avoid costly litigation. In this case, Chattanooga’s old and inadequate sewer system, which combined both sewage and the city’s often torrential rainfall into one combined system, was repeatedly overflowing into the Tennessee River, violating the federal Clean Water Act by contaminating the Tennessee River.

The needed repairs to our local sewer system were massive in scope and cost, many times the size of the City’s entire annual budget, so an agreement was reached between local and federal governments to spread the project over the course of twenty years. Chattanooga is roughly halfway through the project as of today.

Under the new funding plan, the city will move forward with a competitive application process that may award up to $186 million in extremely low-interest loans to finance several large projects related to wastewater infrastructure. Chattanooga is one of a select number of cities invited by the EPA to apply for these funds, available through the Water Infrastructure Financing Innovation Act (WIFIA), thanks to the city’s demonstrated commitment to proactively improving public health and protecting access to clean water.

Simultaneously, the city will also tap into a combination of other funding sources, including State Revolving Loan Funds and cash from its enterprise sewer fund, to fuel the remaining $165 million in improvements.

“Chattanooga’s precious outdoor resources are its greatest competitive advantage, and innovative financing solutions like these are critical as we work to preserve our environment for future generations to enjoy,” said Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly. “These low-interest loans, which are available to us thanks to our commitment to clean water, will allow us to make much-needed improvements, while maintaining low rates for Chattanooga residents.”

Specific projects funded by the plan include an oxygen plant replacement, a wet weather treatment upgrade, and a solids process optimization implementation at the Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant, as well as a system-wide sanitary sewer overflow abatement program.

To learn more about the city’s commitment to proactive and sustainable wastewater infrastructure improvements, please visit clearchattanooga.com. Clear Chattanooga includes major upgrades and revisions to portions of the wastewater system, including pipe rehabilitation, pump station improvements, upgrades to Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant, and comprehensive operational audits.

For more information on the WIFIA low-interest loan program, please see this fact sheet.

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