The Bloomington Alternative launched the "Indiana a clean and healthy place to live?" reporting project on Feb. 2 with a story about water contamination in the Little Lick Creek in Blackford County. Water samples from the park-side creek in the Summer 2000 indicated untreated combined sewage present at levels that exceeded state water quality standards by at least 25,000 times.

The story was accompanied by a list of questions for Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commission Lori Kaplan regarding Little Lick Creek in particular and water contamination from combined sewers in general. What follows are unedited answers submitted to The Bloomington Alternative by the commissioner's office.

The original Alternative story - "You can't keep kids out of the water" - as well as other stories in the ongoing series are available online at: ...


Question 1

I am sure that you will agree that Little Lick Creek was not a clean and healthy place for Hoosier children to live near or play by in the summer of 2000. Could you please detail the efforts that IDEM has made to remediate contamination in this creek since that time?

In 1999, IDEM investigated Little Lick Creek because of a history of fish kills. It was determined that Hartford Packing Company had been improperly discharging waste into the waterway related to its tomato canning operation. IDEM took enforcement action, and the company went out of business. In 2000, IDEM again visited the creek to determine its recovery status. I believe it is that revisit to which you refer in your story.

The contamination found in the creek in 2000 was determined to be an overflow from Hartford City sewer systems and, perhaps, other contributors. The Hartford City's wastewater treatment plant generally operates within its National Pollution Discharge Elimination System permit limits. In some instances, though, the city's sewer infrastructure did allow overflow into the creek.

To address this infrastructure issue - and thus improve the water quality of Little Lick Creek specifically as well as other waterways facing similar challenges across the state -- IDEM is working with communities to develop Long Term Control Plans (LTCP) to reduce E. coli and other contamination in our waterways. Regrettably, many communities in Indiana face similar contamination, and it is through these LTCPs that we are actively engaged in correcting these problems. Hartford City is to submit its LTCP next week -- on February 20, 2003.

In January 2001, IDEM approved a Hartford City sewer separation project, which is designed to eliminate storm water connections to the sanitary sewer system.

Additionally, OWQ is focusing on the Upper Wabash watershed this year, and Little Lick Creek will be sampled again this summer as part of that watershed focus. It is quite possible, depending on the quality of the water, that OWQ will also conduct an aquatic life assessment there. If we find the waterway meets the criteria for an "impaired" waterway, staff will factor that into the creek's allowable discharge levels under our Total Maximum Daily Load program and work with the affected communities to meet those program requirements.

So, to sum up what IDEM has done to remediate Little Lick Creek, the agency took action against a polluter, has helped the community improve its sewer system to reduce further pollution into the creek and is continuing to work on overall watershed improvements.

Question 2

What are IDEM's legal obligations under the Clean Water Act and/or other state and federal law to protect the public from contamination cause by combined sewer overflows in the 106 communities that have them?

The Clean Water Act seeks to protect the quality of the waters of the United States. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with implementing that federal law. The EPA has designated the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to implement the Clean Water Act to protect the quality of the waters of Indiana. A total of 45 states have such authority.

In 1994, EPA developed a combined sewer overflow (CSO) policy to guide states that have cities that have combined sewers. Indiana has 106 CSO communities. The federal policy contains four fundamental principles to ensure that CSO controls are cost-effective and meet local environmental objectives:

  • Clear levels of control to meet health and environmental objectives;
  • Flexibility to consider the site-specific nature of CSOs and to find the most cost-effective way to control them;
  • Phased implementation of CSO controls to accommodate a community's financial capability; and
  • Review and revision of water quality standards during the development of CSO control plans to reflect the site-specific wet weather impacts of CSOs.

In May 1996, IDEM finalized its strategy for bringing the state's CSOs into compliance by the year 2005. The strategy is a two-phase plan that uses communities' National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to address the overflow issues. IDEM issues NPDES permits in accordance with the Clean Water Act, and permit violations (including CSOs) are subject to IDEM enforcement.

Phase I of IDEM's CSO strategy focuses on improving technology-based controls on existing infrastructure. Phase II requires communities to rebuild or renovate infrastructure that doesn't enable the community to meet water quality standards after Phase I work.

Phase I requires communities with combined sewer overflows to review and revise sewer ordinances and put into place control plans, using what are known as the "nine minimum technology-based controls". Some of the nine minimum controls include: proper operation and maintenance, maximizing the use of the collection system for storage, maximizing the flow to the treatment plant, prohibiting combined sewer overflows in dry weather, and providing public notification regarding overflow occurrences and impacts.

Phase II requires communities with CSOs to develop and implement a long- term control plan (LTCP) that meets the goals of the Clean Water Act. Selection of CSO control alternatives shall be done with extensive public education and input. Phase II plans could require implementation schedules of 10 to 15 years.

Overcoming the challenges caused by these CSOs will not be easy. Dating back to the Roman Empire, communities built combined sewer systems that have contributed to the pollution of water worldwide. Since the 1960's, Indiana has approved only separate sanitary and storm water sewer systems - ending the construction of combined sewers. Too many remain, though, and IDEM continues to work with communities and groups like the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns to help communities reconstruct their wastewater infrastructure. Experts put the cost of eliminating combined sewer overflows in Indiana alone at more than $5 billion.

Almost all of Indiana's 106 CSO communities are now required by NPDES permit or other enforceable means to develop an approvable Long Term Control Plan. IDEM has now received about 60 of these plans and has begun reviewing them. Over the next several years, IDEM plans to review and hopefully approve, some with federal involvement, all LTCPs for the Indiana CSO communities.

Work has already begun in many of these 106 communities. The State Budget Agency and IDEM through the State Revolving Loan Fund are assisting various communities with projects that will be instrumental to successful completion of a long-term control plan. Many others have begun their work with separate financing.

IDEM has also developed guidance for the CSO communities to follow in developing their LTCPs and, if desired, in pursuing a suspension of a designated use as provided for in SEA 431 from a few years ago. We are confident that we can work with the public and the communities to make rapid and steady progress in overcoming the problems caused by century old sewer systems.

Question 3

In full-time equivalents, how many employees has IDEM assigned to work on combined sewer overflow issues in Indiana?

IDEM's Office of Water Quality has a Wet Weather section in which four full-time staff members are currently assigned to working with communities and their Long-Term Control Plans. Other IDEM staff will assist as needed in the review this year and next of the 61 long-term control plans currently submitted to IDEM.

Question 4

What progress in reducing water pollution from combined sewer overflows has IDEM made under the Bayh and O'Bannon administrations?

The responsibility to reduce pollution from combined sewer overflows is shared between communities, their citizens, the state and the U.S. EPA. Sixty-one out of Indiana's 106 CSO communities have submitted to IDEM a Long-Term Control Plan, required under federal law, to address the overflows. IDEM is fulfilling our role in establishing guidance for these plans, reviewing them, ensuring that the ultimate plans are consistent with state and federal requirements and assisting where possible to effectuate successful plans. IDEM will be working with the communities, public and EPA over the next several years to gain approved long-term control plans for all 106 communities.

The real work to reduce and eliminate overflows has already begun. Almost all communities with combined sewers have begun work on their wastewater treatment facilities and/or sewer systems to begin to make changes. IDEM has worked with each community as they develop and begin to implement their plans. Also, IDEM and the State Budget Agency have made available State Revolving Loan Fund loans to many communities for related work. As with most other states with CSO communities, most of the work to improve the sewers and wastewater treatment will occur this decade and next.

Question 5

Please respond to this statement from environmental reporter Tammy Webber's Jan. 28 story in the Indianapolis Star: "Indiana has among the highest releases of untreated sewage in the country because of combined sewer systems and has $2.6 million available for its drinking water program - less than half of the almost $5.4 million spent by Wisconsin, the next-lowest fund in the Midwest."

States like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Massachusetts and others have a large number of combined sewer systems. This is a function of the timing of the development of infrastructure within the cities and towns. Indiana is aggressively working with cities and towns to develop acceptable long term control plans to address the wet weather releases.

IDEM has been publicly advocating to the General Assembly and others that a substantial increase in funding is needed to fully implement the protections required under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. We will continue to do so.

Currently, IDEM collects only 3.2 percent of its drinking water budget from permit fees paid by those who operate drinking water facilities. Through House Bill 1979, IDEM is proposed the establishment of a new fee for public water supply systems as a way to generate additional funds for drinking water programs as well as a fee to implement the federal Phase II Municipal Separate Stormwater Sewer System Permit Program

Question 6

Please respond to the following comment in the Star story from former IDEM Assistant Commissioner Tom Neltner, now with Improving Kids Environment: "I think we've put off a lot of really tough decisions. What we are really talking about is a legacy of past policy problems. … We're finally paying for the long subsidy we've had for growth and failing to deal with the problems."

Nationally, all states with combined sewers are now working to remedy problems attributable to practices in a different time in our history. We are making steady progress in the area of combined sewers and many others in order to address long-term problems caused by a lack of awareness or of focus on the environmental impact of past practices.

Question 7

When do you foresee Indiana surface waters being clean enough that parents will not have to worry that they can't keep their kids out of the water?

Indiana has established designated uses of fishable and swimmable for all of Indiana's waters. We are committed to that goal. We, and all other states, have a long way to go to achieve that goal, although water quality improvement since passage of the Clean Water Act 30 years ago has been phenomenal. We are confident that all groups within Indiana can work together to achieve our clean water goals and do so in a manner that makes sense and is aggressive.