April 2, 2019 - Efforts to protect the St. Joseph River from Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) are paying off after years of investments in Fort Wayne’s sewer system. In 2008, the City’s agreement with the Federal Government to reduce the number of overflow events on the St. Joe River from 13 times per year to no more than one time in a typical year went into effect.  City Utilities has been able to complete protection projects benefitting the St. Joe ahead of schedule, giving us time to tweak and adjust those improvements. The results show great success -- with zero overflows on the St. Joe in the past 23 months.

“I am pleased that our investments and hard work are showing progress in protecting our rivers. This is a tremendous accomplishment as we safeguard this vital river and the neighborhoods nearby. The commitment to being good stewards of the environment and our rivers will ensure that our life-giving resources will be safe and abundant long into the future,” said Mayor Henry.

In 2015, City Utilities completed more than $12 million in investments and several years of projects to protect the St. Joe River and nearby neighborhoods. The projects included sewer separation through construction of new storm sewer systems, increased capacity with the addition of a new trunk line sewer, diversion structures to help route rain water runoff, and green infrastructure.  The projects kept 16 million gallons of combined sewage out of the St. Joe and protected nearly 500 homes from basement backups and street flooding.

“The community values our rivers, and that’s evident by the renewed interest to re-connect and look for new opportunities to incorporate our rivers in our daily lives. Our staff is committed to being good stewards of our resources by protecting them and understands that they are vital to our future,” said Kumar Menon, Director of City Utilities. 

Proof in Data

The last overflow on the St. Joe River occurred on May 4, 2017.  Data shows that before that date, as little as a third of an inch (.33”) over a 24-hour period would trigger a CSO on the St. Joe.  Since May 4, 2017, we’ve had 68 rain events with more than a third of an inch and we’ve had no overflows.

“It’s an impressive accomplishment and we are pleased with our results, but our work isn’t over.  Our deep rock tunnel and other sewer projects are continuing efforts to reduce overflows along the St. Marys and Maumee River, said Anne Marie Smrchek, P.E., Manager of Stormwater and Sewer Engineering, City Utilities. 

Investing in Neighborhoods to protect St. Joe River

  • Kirkwood Park Sewer Separation:  Construction of new storm sewers allowed for removal of stormwater runoff from the existing combined sewers in the Kirkwood Park Neighborhood. This improvement reduced CSO volume by 2.3 million gallons.  (Investment -$762,000)
  • Penn Avenue Sewer Separation: The project provided removal of stormwater runoff from the existing combined sewer along Penn Avenue. This improvement reduced CSO volume by 40,000 gallons.  (Investment -$102,000)
  • Woodrow Vance Sewer Separation Phase I and Phase II:  The projects provided removal of stormwater runoff from the existing combined sewers in the Northside Neighborhood. This improvement reduced CSO volume by 2.7 million gallons.  (Phase I Investment- $1,853,000, Phase II Investment - $886,000)
  • St. Joe Relief Sewer:  The relief sewer picks up wastewater, rain water and snowmelt from three combined sewer overflow outfalls, bringing them into compliance with the one overflow event per typical year requirement.  An improvement to capture floating objects, such as trash and other debris, and keep them out of the river, became a part of one of the outfalls. (Investment -$4,746,700)
  • St. Joe Relief Sewer Connections:  This project included smaller relief sewers as well as minor piping and changes to three outfalls bringing them into compliance with the one overflow event per typical year requirement. (Investment - $648,000)
  •  St. Joe Diversion Structure:  This project involved the construction of a relief sewer to connect directly with the new wet weather pump station at the Water Pollution Control Plant..  The relief sewer increased the capacity in the St. Joe Interceptor to allow for the additional flow from the St. Joe Relief Sewers. The relief sewer, connections and diversion structure reduced CSO volume by 11 million gallons.  (Investment - $2,000,000)
  • Additional Floatables Control to keep trash, food wrappers and other debris from the river. This improvement has kept 10,000 pounds of floating debris from the St. Joe River. (Investment -$1,435,000)

Combined Sewer Overflows (CSO)

 Combined sewers carry both sanitary and stormwater runoff. When it rains or snow melts, combined sewers often fill beyond capacity and the stormwater and sewage mix discharges to the nearest body of water, creating a combined sewer overflow (CSO).  When it’s not raining, all of the sanitary sewage goes to the sewage treatment plant. 

The first sewers in Fort Wayne carried only stormwater and carried it all into the rivers. 

When people began to use indoor plumbing, these “sanitary” facilities connected to the existing storm sewers.  Centralized sewage treatment began in Fort Wayne in 1940, but sewage continued to go to the rivers when flow exceeded the capacity of the Water Pollution Control Plant.  Until the Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972,  Fort Wayne’s combined sewer system was state-of-the-art and discharges to the rivers were an acceptable practice allowed by federal law. 

As our country became more environmentally conscious, laws and regulations changed, and the combined sewer system was no longer an accepted practice. In 1970, President Richard Nixon established the Environmental Protection Agency, and under his presidency, the regulations of the Clean Water Act became law in 1972.

Consent Decree

 The City is under court order – called a Consent Decree -- to significantly reduce the number of combined sewer overflows going to our rivers, reduce sewage that backs up into homes during wet weather events, eliminate sanitary sewer overflows, and operate and maintain the sewer system’s reliability through continued repair and rehabilitation. 

The Consent Decree requires City Utilities to reduce the number of overflow events from the current average of 71 times a year on our rivers to one overflow event in a typical year to the St. Joseph River and four overflow events in a typical year on the St. Marys and Maumee Rivers. 

Sewer Advisory Group

In 1995, City Utilities established the Sewer Task Force.  The group was assembled with residents from neighborhoods across the City to study, provide input and assist City Utilities in moving forward with efforts to reduce the likelihood of having sewage backups into homes during wet weather.  This group of dedicated citizens has been helpful and instrumental in implementing compliance efforts required by the Consent Decree.

After the Sewer Task Force provided a set of recommendations to City Utilities in 1997, the group continued to be active and last year broadened its focus becoming the Utility Advisory Group, to facilitate community input on topics in the water, stormwater and sewer utilities.

St. Joe Watershed Initiative

In 1996, concerned citizens brought together local and state leaders and natural resource professionals from the St. Joe River’s three-state watershed. The group shared information and discussed solutions to improve water quality in the St. Joe River Watershed by promoting economically and environmentally compatible land use and practices.

The Initiative, a non-profit partnership, exists to protect, restore and encourage the enjoyment of the St. Joe River and its watershed, which stretches across 694,400 acres through six counties in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan. Because the St. Joseph River is the source of drinking water for its customers, City Utilities supports this group and serves on the Board of Directors.

Today’s Water Facts

  • 46% of water used in America is for producing the manufacturing products we buy.
  • It takes 45 gallons of water to make one glass or orange juice. That includes the water used to grow the oranges, of course.
  • The National Hockey League collectively uses more than 300 million gallons of water each season—it takes 12,500 gallons to make ice for each rink.