A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

SD1 director Chaney explains what extension of consent decree means short-term, over the long haul

By David Holthaus
NKyTribune reporter

The operator of Northern Kentucky’s wastewater utility system has negotiated an extra 15 years to comply with federal law on sewer overflows.


That extra time, its leaders say, will allow it to spread the huge costs of the project over a longer period and allow it to prioritize parts of the project that will have the most impact.

Northern Kentucky Sanitation District No.1  (SD1) leaders negotiated an extension with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that would push back to 2040 its deadline to fix the region’s problems with sewer overflows. That agreement still needs to be approved by a federal court. It’s unclear if any environmental groups or others will oppose the extension.

SD1 Executive Director Adam Chaney said the extension would help ease the impact on the district’s ratepayers, similar to how financing a home mortgage over a longer period reduces the monthly payments.

“SD1 was increasing rates double digits every year,” he said. “We knew that was unsustainable. It was unrealistic to continue to raise rates at that level.”

The agreement with the EPA and the U.S. government, called a consent decree, took effect in 2007. Between 2007 and 2013, the district’s rates grew each year by 15 to 20 percent, according to the district’s figures.

Since 2007, the district has spent more than $500 million and eliminated more than 100 million gallons of sewer overflows, Chaney said.

Noncompliance with the consent decree could result in huge fines for SD1, payment of which would be passed on to ratepayers. Inevitably, when the fines are mentioned, some ratepayers suggest that SD1 just pay the fines.

Compliance, however, is mandatory.

If SD1 failed to meet deadlines and fines were assessed, the utility would still be required to come into compliance with the terms of the consent decree.

The district began negotiating with the EPA in 2012, before Chaney was named executive director.

Chaney was appointed in 2017.

“This has been years in the making,” he said. “One of the goals when I came in was to actually get it done.”

He said the extension will allow the district to give priority to projects that have the biggest impact in reducing sewer overflows.

“We’re going to do the projects that create the most benefit first,” he said.

Many of those projects are located in the Licking River watershed, where about 40 percent of the sanitary sewer overflows occur, he said.

Some overflow problems are in remote areas that are expensive to access and to fix and those will be bumped down on the list.

He said the EPA would only agree to the extension if the district ensured progress on the highest priority overflows. The district agreed to eliminate 75 percent of all sanitary sewer overflows, the most harmful because they are wastewater, by 2029.

The new plan also relies more on storing water and then releasing it at appropriate times to prevent overflows. That will reduce the need to replace miles of pipe and save money, Chaney said. The stored water can be released into the system when conditions are dry and overflows aren’t likely to occur.

One of SD1’s treatment facilities

The downside of the agreement is that the region will continue to experience sewer overflows for an additional 15 years, assuming the deadline is met in 2040. But Chaney said the 2025 deadline could not have been met affordably.

“We were unable to get to where we wanted to be in 2025,” he said. “The plan that we have in place will actually have more benefit because we’re going to be able to affordably solve the problem.”

SD1 is the second largest public sewer utility in Kentucky, serving more than 290,000 residents throughout Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties.

SD1 maintains approximately 1,600 miles of sanitary-sewer system pipeline, 135 wastewater pumping stations, 15 flood pump stations, six package treatment plants, three major wastewater treatment plants, 416 miles of storm-sewer system and 31,106 storm-sewer structures.

Contact the Northern Kentucky Tribune at news@nkytrib.com

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