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The City of Rockford, Illinois Clean Water Act Settlement

Overview of Company

The City of Rockford, Illinois owns and operates a municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4). The city is authorized under a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit to discharge stormwater to waters of the United States through its MS4 provided it complies with all provisions of the permit.

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The city failed to develop and implement a stormwater pollution prevention and management program that minimizes the discharge of pollutants to the maximum extent practicable in violation of Section 402 of the Clean Water Act and the terms and conditions of its NPDES permit. Specific deficiencies include:

  • Failure to adequately inspect and maintain city-owned stormwater structural controls such as detention basins;
  • Failure to develop and implement an industrial and high risk runoff program, e.g., the city did not develop a complete inventory of industrial and high risk facilities and did not inspect facilities for compliance with the city’s stormwater ordinances;
  • Failure to implement an adequate construction program, e.g., the city did not conduct adequate review of erosion and sediment control plans or implement an adequate inspection program;
  • Failure to develop and implement an adequate illicit discharge identification and elimination program, e.g., the city did not conduct dry weather screening to identify illicit discharges;
  • Failure to conduct and document feasibility studies for retrofitting the city’s flood control devices to provide additional pollutant removal;
  • Failure to conduct a wet weather screening program that complies with permit requirements; and
  • Failure to provide adequate finances, staff, equipment and support capabilities to implement its stormwater program.

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Injunctive Relief

The consent decree requires the city to implement several standard operating procedures (SOPs) which it developed to comply with various components of its NPDES permit. These SOPs include procedures for:

  • Inspection and maintenance of the stormwater system including stormwater controls such as detention basins; 
  • Street sweeping;  
  • Application of pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer;  
  • Review and approval of erosion and sediment control plans for construction projects and inspection of construction sites that discharge stormwater to the MS4;  
  • Inspection of industrial and high risk runoff facilities that discharge stormwater to the MS4;  
  • Identification and elimination of illicit discharges into the MS4;  
  • Monitoring and sampling;  
  • Training of city staff and public education; and
  • Enforcement of city ordinances prohibiting the discharge of pollutants to the MS4.

The city has budgeted $5.4 million for 2015 to implement its stormwater management program.  

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Environmental Justice

The City of Rockford’s service area includes minority and low income populations. The median household income for Rockford is $38,067 and 25.5 percent of the population is below the poverty level. In contrast, the median household income for the State of Illinois is $56,797 and 14.1 percent of the population is below the poverty level. The injunctive relief required by this settlement will reduce the impact of polluted stormwater on Rockford’s waterways and benefit all Rockford residents.

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Health and Environmental Effects

Polluted stormwater runoff is commonly transported through MS4s and ultimately discharged untreated into local rivers, lakes and streams. Common pollutants discharged through MS4s include road salt, sand, oil and grease from roadways; pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides from lawns and parks; sediment from construction sites; and carelessly discarded trash, such as cigarette butts, paper wrappers, and plastic bottles. In addition, municipalities conduct numerous activities that can pose a threat to water quality if practices and procedures are not in place to prevent pollutants from entering the MS4. These activities include winter road maintenance, minor road repairs and other infrastructure work, automobile fleet maintenance, landscaping and park maintenance, and building maintenance. Discharges from MS4s also often include contaminated stormwater runoff from industrial facilities as well as illicit discharges of wastes and wastewater from non-stormwater sources. Illicit discharges can enter the MS4 through direct connections (e.g., wastewater piping either mistakenly or deliberately connected to the MS4) or indirect connections (e.g., infiltration into the MS4, spills collected by storm drains, or paint or used oil dumped directly into a storm drain). The result is untreated discharges that contribute high levels of pollutants, including heavy metals, toxics, oil and grease, solvents, nutrients, viruses, and bacteria to receiving waters.

When discharged into nearby waterways through MS4s, these pollutants can degrade water quality, thereby discouraging recreational uses, contaminating drinking water supplies, and adversely impacting fish, other aquatic life and wildlife. In addition, an increase in the amount of impervious surfaces (e.g., parking lots, driveways, and rooftops) resulting from new development can impact waterbodies by increasing the quantity and velocity of water delivered to the waterbodies during storms. This can result in streambank scouring and erosion and downstream flooding which can harm aquatic life and damage property.

The stormwater NPDES permit program requires municipalities to develop and implement a stormwater management program that is intended to improve the quality of local waterways by reducing the impact of new development and reducing the amount of pollutants that stormwater runoff and melting snow pick up and carry into storm sewer systems.

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Civil Penalty

The city will pay a civil penalty of $329,395 which will be split between the United States and the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency.

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State Role

The State of Illinois is a co-plaintiff. 

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Comment Period

The proposed settlement, lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Western Division, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. Information on submitting comment is available at the Department of Justice website.

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For more information, contact:

Susan D. Bruce 
Water Enforcement Division
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Ave, NW (MC 2243A)
Washington, DC 20460 
(202) 564-8329

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