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Clarksville mayor says claims made in sewage overflow lawsuit ‘lack context’

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Posted at 1:54 PM, Jan 29, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-29 14:54:16-05

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The City of Clarksville is disputing claims made by an environmental group who accused the city of dumping millions of gallons of sewage into the Cumberland River.

Tennessee Riverkeeper, Inc. filed a lawsuit against the city saying it violated the Clean Water Act and the Tennessee Water Quality Control Act.

The city responded, saying it’s “aggressively improving” its wastewater collection and treatment system and has spent more than $130 million since 2010 on new construction and upgrades.

“The City is committed to clean water and strives to comply with all state and federal wastewater regulations,” Mayor Joe Pitts said Tuesday. “And while the City does not admit to any unauthorized discharges, citizens should understand the context of what this lawsuit claims. Even if 24 million gallons of wastewater reached the river over five years, Clarksville Gas & Water would have managed to capture 99.899% of the total wastewater created in this time frame. That would be a really small drop in a great big bucket.”

Tennessee Riverkeeper, Inc. said the Clarksville Sewage Treatment Plant has had 498 total overflow violations – releasing an estimated 82,533,061- plus gallons of sewage into the river since November 27, 2014.

In response, the city said its counsel argued that nearly 50 million gallons of wastewater had been released in a “single catastrophic” pipe break in 2016 and that the issue was resolved two years ago.

They said counsel also showed that some 18% of the alleged illegal discharges were actually allowed under the city’s current permit provided by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The city said Tennessee Riverkeeper “dramatically reduced the amount of the illegal discharges” alleged in the suit from 82 million to 24 million gallons of wastewater.

The city provided the following letter that was presented to Tennessee Riverkeeper on January 13, in response to the group’s notice of intent to sue:

The City is addressing issues pertaining to sanitary sewer overflows through a 2012 Consent Order issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The deliverables developed by the City pursuant to the Consent Order address all of the (sanitary sewer overflows) identified in your Notice of Intent to Sue as chronic overflows. In fact those improvements are identified and funded for a total of some $22.7 million. The City has budgeted an additional $4.3 million for sewer rehabilitation to reduce infiltration/inflow and provide wet weather capacity relief.

While the City's combined sewer overflows are permitted under the current permit, the City has budgeted some $7.5 million to improve performance of the CSO area pursuant to its long term control plan.

Completed capital improvement projects addressing sewer capacity and reliability issues total at least $54.2 million in the past 15 years. The City has aggressively worked to improve its entire wastewater system infrastructure since the 2010 flood caused massive damage to the system, all in accordance with state approved plans and milestones. Flood recovery and rebuilding cost the City some $132.7 million.

The city said it intends to “mount a vigorous defense” against the lawsuit.

Read more: Environmental group sues Clarksville for sewage overflows