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Lexington EPA Consent Decree Progress

In 2006, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Commonwealth of Kentucky filed a lawsuit against Lexington for violations of the Clean Water Act. Age, changing regulations and equipment failures related to deferred maintenance created an assortment of operational problems, but the end result of those problems has been that during significant rainfall, we had been discharging sewage into our streams in violation of the Clean Water Act. The consent decree agreement, which was finalized in January 2011, requires the study, design, and implementation of numerous construction projects to repair sewer pipes and to improve our stormwater system. The consent decree is a legal agreement between the city, state, and federal government to fix problems with Lexington’s stormwater and sanitary sewer systems by 2026. The agreement also requires Lexington to make operational and managerial changes to prevent future problems.

In August 2020, one year ahead of schedule, Lexington completed the immense task of replacing two miles of sanitary sewer line between Oliver Lewis Way and Tates Creek Road. What made the sewer replacement a logistical nightmare is where the 1934 clay pipe to be replaced was located —underneath some of the the busiest streets in Lexington. Crews had to dig underneath two key intersections —South Broadway and Limestone Street —to replace the pipe. The Euclid Avenue sewer line was old and overtaxed. An explosion of growth and new construction on UK’s campus in the Avenue of Champions and Euclid Avenue area meant more and more water was going into the old, clay sewer line.

In January 2021, U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell signed off on an agreement between the federal agency and Lexington that released the city from federal oversight of its stormwater program. Parts of that program include inspecting all new construction sites to ensure dirt and other debris are not entering the stormwater system or nearby creeks and streams will still occur. Since the city will continue to do the monitoring required by federal regulators, the release may not generate immediate savings. However, the change will save staff time in preparing multiple reports to the EPA each year on the city’s progress.

The parts of the consent decree involving environmental remediation projects and sanitary sewers, including nearly $590 million in such upgrades as new sewer lines and wet weather storage tanks, are still in effect. The sanitary sewer upgrades required as part of the EPA consent decree are a little more than halfway completed.