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The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County, Tenn. Agree to Extensive Sewer System Upgrades


WASHINGTON – The Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County (Metro), at a cost of between $300 million and $400 million, has agreed to make extensive improvements to its sewer systems to eliminate unauthorized overflows of untreated raw sewage and to control overflows of combined sewage and storm water under a settlement announced today by the Justice Department, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC).

“Today’s settlement is the result of cooperation between federal, state, and local authorities to improve public infrastructure and the environment in a meaningful way,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Ronald J. Tenpas for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We are confident that the remedial measures agreed upon today will provide for significant and lasting improvements to water quality throughout the region.”

“The United States takes violations of the Clean Water Act very seriously, and will enforce the law to ensure that the residents of the Nashville area and this District will have the clean water they expect and deserve,” said Ed Yarbrough, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee. “While this case was resolved through cooperative efforts, it nonetheless should send an unmistakable message that those who endanger our waterways will be held accountable.”

While Nashvilles aging sewer system still requires significant improvement, Metros efforts to date and their cooperative approach throughout negotiations was instrumental in expediting the resolution of this settlement, said Jimmy Palmer, EPA Regional Administrator in Atlanta. We hope that successful outcomes like this will encourage other wastewater utilities to be proactive when it comes to addressing sewer overflow problems.

“Metro has made significant progress in reducing the overflows in its sewer system, and the results of this consent decree will expedite that process even more,” said TDEC Deputy Commissioner Paul Sloan. “We’ve been pleased with the cooperative tone during these negotiations, and we’re certainly pleased that the outcome will result in an even cleaner, healthier environment for the people who live here.”

According to the investigation, each year Metro has been unlawfully discharging over 200 million gallons of untreated sewage and experiencing overflows of billions of gallons of combined sewage into the Cumberland River and its tributaries. This settlement will lead to the significant reduction of approximately 1.3 million pounds of pollutants per year.

The major features of the consent decree filed today in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville, will require Metro to comply with four specific corrective action plans.

Metro must propose and implement specific corrective action plans to bring combined sewer overflows or CSOs, which are overflows of a combination of untreated sewage and storm water from permitted outfall locations, into compliance with water quality standards; it must create and carry out specific corrective action plans to eliminate unauthorized sanitary sewer overflows or SSOs of untreated sewage, the worst of such overflows, representing approximately 50% of the total, occur at certain locations which must be addressed within the next 2 years; it must employ improvements to its sewer systems management operation and maintenance or MOM programs to prevent future overflows; and, lastly, Metro must also respond to overflows attentively when they occur.

In addition to the required corrective action plans, the consent decree also requires Metro to pay a civil penalty and perform Supplemental Environmental Projects. The United States will be paid a civil penalty in the amount of $282,019. Tennessee will receive a total of $282,019 and has agreed to use this money to fund the Cumberland River Compact, a local environmental group that works to address local water quality problems through pollution prevention, pollution reduction, public health avenues, and environmental education, restoration and protection.

Finally, Metro will also perform two supplemental environmental projects or SEPs at a cost of $2.8 million to extend sewer service to areas currently served only by septic systems, some of which are defective and have negatively affected water quality.

In the past, the United States has reached similar agreements with numerous municipal entities across the country including Mobile; Jefferson County (Birmingham), Alabama; Atlanta; Knoxville; Miami; New Orleans; Toledo; Hamilton County (Cincinnati), Ohio; Baltimore; Los Angeles; Northern Kentucky; and Louisville.

The proposed consent decree with Metro is subject to a 30 day public comment period and final court approval before becoming effective. A copy of the consent decree lodged today is available on the Department of Justice Web site at


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