The threat of a federal lawsuit could cost Metro taxpayers millions of dollars. The U.S. Justice Department recently sent a confidential memo to the city of Nashville demanding changes to the pollution level of the Cumberland River.
NewsChannel 5 obtained an exclusive copy of that letter and it said the city could face millions in fines and sewer upgrades.
The letter stated, "This is to notify you that the EPA has requested that the U.S. Department of Justice initiate an enforcement action in federal court alleging violations of the Clean Water Act."
Nashville was not alone. Other cities including Knoxville, Atlanta and Birmingham have received similar letters. In Baltimore, the threat of a federal lawsuit ended up costing taxpayers one-billion dollars in new sewer upgrades.
Metro Water Services and the Justice Department declined to comment about the situation and called the matter confidential.
Sources told NewsChannel 5 the violation centered on sewer and wastewater overflow that spilled into the Cumberland River.
Metro councilman Adam Dread serves on the Public Works Committee. He said the city has spent $750 million on overflow abatement since1990.
At issue is the idea of replacing old, smaller sewage pipes that can't handle the heavy water flow from an ever-growing city.
"That's going through some really old sewers. We've got grease and roots and all kinds of things you've got to deal with that trigger the Clean Water Act," Dread said. "The clean water act is zero tolerance policy."
Whatever Nashville's doing apparently isn't enough. A federal prosecutor signed off on the memo sent by the Justice Department.
If costly improvements aren't made, the city could face litigation and taxpayers will face the added burden of millions of dollars in fines.
In the confidential memo, sent just last month, the Justice Department offered to discuss a settlement before moving forward with the lawsuit.
Metro attorneys agreed and will join federal prosecutors for a private meeting later this month in Atlanta.
Every other city targeted by the feds ended up spending more money than they already were to ensure clean water. It's likely the city will face some type of fine, usually in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Waste water abatement remains a priority for Metro Water Services.
The department spokesperson said they've spent millions on more than 250 projects over the past decade, and that the waste water problem continues to improve.