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What are CSOs and where are they located?

Some cities, such as Fort Wayne, collect both rainwater runoff and sanitary wastewater in the same set of sewer pipes. These are called "combined sewers." Sometimes when it rains, combined sewers do not have enough capacity to carry all the rainwater and wastewater (sewage) to the Water Pollution Control Plant and/or the Plant does not have the capacity to accept all of the combined flow. In this situation, the combined wastewater then overflows from the collection system into the nearest body of water -- in Fort Wayne's case, into one of the three rivers -- creating a combined sewer overflow (CSO).
Combined Sewers serve many communities especially in the northeast and Great Lakes region of the United States. Fort Wayne has a typical combined sewer system. In Fort Wayne, combined sewers are found most in the older part of the City. Fort Wayne has 44 combined sewer overflow outfalls locations going to the three rivers and their tributaries.

combined sewers graphic

How do CSOs affect the Fort Wayne Community?

During dry weather, combined sewers that serve the older part of Fort Wayne carry sanitary sewage from homes and businesses to the Water Pollution Control Plant without incident. However, when it rains, combined sewer overflows (CSOs) happen due to the volume of water entering the pipe system thus pushing it past its capacity. As a result, river quality may be impaired by the untreated wastewater that discharges from combined sewers into the City's three rivers at overflow locations.
The main pollutants in CSOs are untreated human and industrial wastes, toxic materials like oil and pesticides, and floating debris that may wash into the sewer system. These pollutants can affect your health of anyone recreating in CSO-polluted water. The pollutants in CSOs can impair use of the rivers and cause a variety of bacteria-related illness. CSO pollutants are not just a human health concern, they also damage the environment of fish, shellfish, and other aquatic life.

How is the City managing and decreasing the impact of CSOs?

City Utilities is committed to updating and improving its sewer system to meet federal mandates and protect river water quality by significantly reducing the number of combined sewer overflow events (CSOs). Sewer system improvement plans are described in several documents that have been prepared by City Utilities and reviewed and approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
The Combined Sewer Overflow Long Term Control Plan (LTCP) includes general descriptions of projects the City Utilities will construct to reduce the amount of combined sewage being discharged to the St. Joseph, St. Marys and Maumee Rivers during rain fall and snow melt.The Capacity Management, Operations and Maintenance (CMOM) program is an outline of how City Utilities will maintain and operate the sanitary sewer systems.
The LTCP and the CMOM have been incorporated into a Consent Decree - a legally binding document entered into by the City Utilities, the US EPA, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the US Department of Justice. The Consent Decree may be enforced by a federal judge and it contains provision for City Utilities to be fined and penalized for failure to carry out the LTCP and the CMOM. The Consent Decree also outlines steps City Utilities will take to eliminate sanitary sewer overflows.
City Utilities also operates the combined sewer system according to a Combined Sewer System Operation Plan (CSSOP). This document was created to comply with the US EPA's Combined Sewer Overflow Control Policy and specified many of the activities City Utilities undertakes to operate the combined sewer system.

Fort Wayne has 1,011 miles of underground sewers. The creation of sewer systems has been one of the most significant improvements in public health in the last century. Sewers are critical assets to the quality of life and safety for Fort Wayne residents.   There are three kinds of sewer systems in Fort Wayne -- sanitary sewers, which carry only wastewater from toilets, showers, washing machines and other domestic uses as well as wastewater from industries; combined sewers that carry a combination of sanitary sewage and rain water runoff; and storm sewers that carry only rain water runoff and snowmelt.

Who Manages the Sewers?

Fort Wayne's Sewer Utility has responsibility for operating, maintaining and improving an extensive system of pipes, lift stations, and treatment processes all aimed at providing safe and reliable removal of sanitary waste from buildings and homes and insuring that streets and parking areas do not flood with stormwater.
The sewer system contains about 1011.75 miles of sewer lines and drains. It drains more than 68 square miles and serves approximately 72,200 residential and commercial customers inside the boundaries of Fort Wayne. Portions of the system, like the brick sewer lines in the central city area, were built in the mid- to late-1800s. These aging brick sewers are one of the problems the City is faces when maintaining and improving the system because these old sewer need ongoing inspection and repair.
The utility must also ensure that Fort Wayne meets state and federal requirements for the discharge of treated sewage (wastewater) from the plant, as well as implementation of action steps outlined in the Long-term Control Plan aimed at reducing combined sewer overflow events. The Sewer Advisory Group, a citizen based group, helps provide guidance to the City on sewer projects, as well as overall management discussions and decisions. The group gives feedback and may suggest policy or operation changes to help City Utilities better meet the needs of its customers.

How is Sewer Management Paid For?

The services of the sewer utility are paid for by a monthly fee billed to customers. More information on sewer rates can be found on the rates page. The City's authority for collecting this fee is found in Chapter 51 of City Code and Indiana Code 8-1.5-5.

How Are Sewer Utility Funds Spent?

The Sewer Utility has a budget of approximately $63.1 million per year. This money is spent on:
  • Repairing, replacing and improving the sewer pipe and lift station system
  • Making upgrades or repairs to the treatment plant
  • Operating the Water Pollution Control Plant
  • Monitoring and controlling pollution levels in treated wastewater that is returned to the rivers
  • Ensuring compliance with the EPA's Clean Water Act
  • Administering programs to provide cleaner water to the residents of Fort Wayne
  • Implementing projects outlined in the Consent Decree

Need to Connect a Sewer?

The content below contains information about lateral sewer installation, building connections, and basic information about Fort Wayne City Utilities' policies and regulations for connection of a private sanitary sewer service pipe ("lateral") to a Fort Wayne City Utilities public sanitary sewer.
Fort Wayne City Utilities Development Services - Building Sewer Lateral Installation Information Packet
Additional guidance and regulations concerning sanitary sewer connections can be found in the following places:
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact City Utilities Development Services at (260) 427-1161.

Fort Wayne is committed to the principles of Community Oriented Government (COG). One of the fundamental principles of COG is that citizens have the opportunity learn about issues and participate in the decision-making process. The EPA's CSO Control Policy and State's CSO strategy require the City to include the public in the long term planning decision making process. The City took a more aggressive approach by involving the public earlier in the process by creating a Sewer Task Force that worked on a number of sewer issues between September 1995 and October 1996. By involving the public in the decision making process, City Utilities hopes to implement the best overall solutions to problems.


Sewer Task Force
The STF was a forum for citizens to participate with City Utilities officials in selection of priorities and alternatives. The Mayor created the Task Force, but members were volunteers appointed by the City's four Area Partnerships. Each Partnership had four representatives on the Task Force. Interested citizens who were not selected members of the Task Force were encouraged to attend meetings and participate through their representatives. A committee of this kind was not required in the CSSOP, but the City felt it necessary to involve the public as early as possible in the planning process. The Task Force also looked at a number of other sewer issues in addition to CSOs.

The Task Force originally committed to a one year term and completed work on a set of recommendations to the Mayor in about 14 months. One of the recommendations was that some type of advisory group continue to exist to oversee implementation of the recommendations and to provide input on CSO and other issues. In January 1997, a Sewer Advisory Group was formed with two representatives of each Area Partnership and a representative of the Chamber of Commerce. Other interest groups were asked to send advisory members to add perspective to the deliberations of the Sewer Advisory Group. This type of forum for CSO issues will continue through the development and implementation of the Long Term Control Plan.

Board of Public Works
The Board of Public Works (BOW) must approve certain capital expenditures and therefore have final say. The BOW consists of three members appointed by the Mayor. Because the BOW approves the budget for City Utilities, receives bids and approves all construction contracts, the Board serves as a vehicle for notification of the public about CSOs and occurrences and the long-term requirement for public participation.

Public Information Office
The City of Fort Wayne has a well established and professional Public Information Office (PIO). An effective way of conveying CSO information is by targeting audiences, such as businesses, politicians, environmental groups, and the general public, with different kinds of approaches. The PIO coordinates CSO information and education programming with the CSO Program Manager. Every citizen should have the opportunity to participate in local decision making.

CSO Brochure
Fort Wayne has created an informational brochure about Combined Sewer Overflows. It is available here, or for a copy, please contact the Public Information Office at (260) 427-1120.

Educational Presentation
The technical issues concerning CSOs be confusing. Citizens in Fort Wayne, as in other communities, face a number of sewer-related issues such as street flooding, basement backups and the misunderstanding of the role of State and Federal regulators. Sewer Task Force members became well-versed in the issues concerning CSOs and participated in dialogue with City Utilities staff. In order to help more citizens understand CSO issues, the Public Information Office and CSO Program Manager are developing the presentations and materials necessary to give interested citizens the opportunity to educate themselves.

An educational program that can be made available to community groups will include the following topics:

  • CSO impacts on the use of rivers;

  • potential health risks;

  • the nature of combined sewer systems and why they overflow;

  • legal requirements;

  • the potential costs for CSO abatement.

CSO Hotline
More information about the effects of CSOs on river water quality is available on the CSO Hotline, part of Fort Wayne Newspapers' CityLine service. The Hotline provides pre-recorded messages about Fort Wayne's rivers. The CSO Hotline is being updated twice weekly with the latest results of bacteriological tests on water from the St. Joseph, St. Mary's and Maumee Rivers. While much of the pollution in Fort Wayne's rivers comes from upstream, CSOs can have an impact on river water quality. The Hotline provides the current river quality conditions including cautions about body contact during wet weather events.

The CSO Hotline may be reached by calling:
(260) 427-2297

The annual "Bag-A-Thon" event, sponsored in May by the City's Solid Waste Management (SWM) Department, help emphasize general environmental issues.  It includes riverbank clean-up.

For more information or to volunteer for the Bag-A-Thon, call Fort Wayne's Solid Waste Department at:
(260) 427-2474

Indiana's CSO strategy requires that notice signs with information about CSOs and their effects be installed in areas where people have access to rivers.

City Utilities is working to eliminate failing septic systems in the city by making connections to public sanitary sewer systems available for these properties. Hundreds of homes in the City are served by private septic systems. Septic systems have a limited life and eventually fail if not maintained properly, leaching human waste into groundwater, backyards, and neighborhood ditches and streams. Septic systems are linked to high E. coli bacteria counts in many small neighborhood streams and ditches during dry weather when children are most likely to play in them. 

The Solution

To address health hazards in our neighborhoods, City Utilities is continuing the city's efforts to convert many neighborhoods on septic systems to public sanitary sewer service. Neighborhoods with higher septic system failure rates are the priority of our program. Between 2009 and 2015, approximately 1,958 homes in Fort Wayne/Allen County have been or are planned to be taken off septic systems as part of Septic Elimination Program (SEP).

The Benefits

The benefits of SEP are far-reaching, including improved quality of life and are worry-free use of home facilities, fewer maintenance worries, and possibly improved property values when homes with failing septic systems are connected to the public sewer system. SEP also leads to cleaner area streams and neighborhood drainage ditches, greater protection for well water, streams, and drainage ditches, and reduces health hazards from dangerous bacteria exposure due to septic system failures in yards and ditches. 

Program Results and Project Overviews

The following chart summarizes the number of actual septic eliminations each year since our program started in 2009, along with an approximate number of potential septic systems that will be eliminated in the future:
Total Septic Eliminations.
The following are project summaries outlining the details of septic elimination projects: 

Still Have Questions?

If you have any questions concerning the Septic Elimination Program, please contact City Utilities Development Services at (260) 427-1161 or come into our office at Citizens Square, 200 East Berry Street, Suite 140 between 8:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday except for holidays.