In 2010, Indianapolis became the first U.S. city to re-negotiate an E.P.A. Consent Decree that provides cleaner water ten years sooner than under the original 2006 decree, while saving $740M. The new plan uses innovative sustainable engineering and netted the city $400M to address staggering infrastructure needs.
Indy's Clean Water Initiative
In 2006, Indianapolis signed a consent decree with the U.S. EPA under which the City agreed to resolve combined sewer overflow (CSO) concerns. The city committed more than $3.5B for the improvements required to bring the system up to speed.
By 2008, the program faced significant cost overruns, driving capital expenditures for the plan up 10% to $3.8B. Facing budget deficits and an enormous debt load, newly seated Mayor Greg Ballard directed the Department of Public Works (DPW) to identify opportunities for better, more sustainable results that could be implemented more quickly and at a cost savings.
DPW evaluated design concepts and assumptions and identified errors and applied additional data to improve systems. For example, Indianapolis now uses an aerobic secondary treatment process instead of anaerobic, saving tens of millions of dollars while better treating industry waste.
The City of Indianapolis then re-negotiated with EPA and implemented value engineering solutions, thereby reducing capital expenditures from $3.8B to $3.06B; a savings of $740M. As the City continues to apply sustainable engineering technologies, that savings continues to grow – it’s now over $1B – all while delivering cleaner water than required by EPA to residents, a full ten years sooner than originally decreed.
The most significant element of the reengineering, the Deep Rock Tunnel Connector, will keep billions of gallons of raw sewage out of the city’s waterways. Its full implementation creates incredible economic development opportunities along Indianapolis’ once filthy and thus underutilized waterways.
As part of this process, Indianapolis transferred its waterworks to a public utility company in 2011. That decision removed close to $1B in debt from the city’s balance sheet. It also provided over $400M to address Indianapolis’ crumbling roads, bridges, sidewalks and other infrastructure. Many new roads incorporate sustainable storm water technology, and save the city countless dollars in annual pothole repair costs. And some of the city’s most neglected neighborhoods now have sidewalks and curbs, after decades of requests and pleas for them. This program, RebuildIndy, has become a tool for widespread economic development and rejuvenation throughout the city.
This has been a tremendous victory for Indianapolis. Mayor Ballard recently testified before Congress on DPW’s CSO reengineering and EPA renegotiation. With unprecedented public praise, EPA called the renegotiation a 'win-win' for everyone. Municipalities across the country are now asking for our help as they begin to reassess their own costly CSO programs.
As a result of our successes, the City of Indianapolis was recently recognized by Harvard University's Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation as part of its annual Innovations in American Government Awards program.