CivicLex

What is Lexington’s EPA Consent Decree?

Sectors: Environment & Energy, Community Design

Council Districts: All of Lexington

Issue Sections

Quick Summary

  • In 2006, the EPA and the Commonwealth of Kentucky filed a lawsuit against Lexington for violating the Clean Water Act, arguing that the city had failed to properly maintain its sanitary and storm sewer systems.
  • These violations caused pollution and flooding of the waterways near the city, costing the state and federal governments significant environmental remediation costs.
  • This lawsuit resulted in a settlement between the three parties, called a Consent Decree, which mandated that Lexington spend close to $590 million to repair these systems.
  • Since the EPA Consent Decree, Lexington has been awarded several honors for its clean water programs that were built to address the issue.

Why Does This Matter?

  • The EPA Consent Decree has significant impacts on the City’s Annual Budget, with environmental and energy costs representing 22% of the total budget–much of that is due to the Consent Decree.
  • This burden causes impacts on other city appropriations–including CDBG funding, much of which is devoted to sewer repairs in the Arlington-Meadows Neighborhoods.
  • The EPA Consent Decree has also caused the city to raise sewer fees multiple times since the agreement was created.
  • In 2008 and and 2009, they were increased by 48% and 30%, after which they were tied to the Consumer Price Index.
  • The fees were increased again in 2015 and 2016, in order to pay for the interest on $48 million in bonding the city took out to pay for sewer costs.

What is the context?

  • EPA Consent Decrees are a common issue in cities across the US that have failed to maintain their sanitary and storm sewer systems.
  • While many are initiated by the EPA itself, Lexington’s Consent Decree was actually triggered by a group of concerned citizens threatening to sue the City of Lexington if the EPA did not.
  • Lexington is situated in the middle of several watersheds, including the Kentucky River watershed, the Town Branch, Elkhorn Creek, Cane Run, and Wolf Run watersheds.
  • When storm and sanitary sewers are hit with rain events that are too significant for them to capture and contain, these waterways flood, sending Lexington’s trash and pollution into neighboring communities.

How can I get involved?

  1. Talk with your friends, family, and neighbors about the watershed they live in, and ask them if they experience any flooding issues in their neighborhoods.
  2. Attend your Neighborhood Association Meeting–do your neighbors experience flooding in their streets?
  3. Get in touch with your council member–talk to them about what steps they are taking to tackle stormwater issues in their district.
  4. Read some of the paperwork in the city’s Public Document Repository on the EPA Consent Decree.
  5. Consider joining or attending meetings of the Environmental Commission or the Environmental Hearing Commission.

Sources

  1. United States of America and the Commonwealth of Kentucky vs. Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government
  2. Lexington Herald-Leader: Judge Finalizes Agreement Between Lexington and EPA to Overhaul Sewers
  3. Lexington Ky - U.S. EPA Consent Decree
  4. US Environmental Protetion Agency - Consent Decree: Lexington, Kentucky Clean Water Act
  5. Lexington Herald-Leader: Lexington council votes to increase sewer rates
  6. Lexington Herald-Leader: EPA fines Lexington $102,000 after sewers overflow 51 times
  7. Lane Report: Lexington-Fayette water quality wins major awards
  8. Smiley Pete: Lexington EPA Consent Decree Signed by Judge