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South Bend, Feds Agree On New Plan To Improve City Sewers, Decrease Overflow Into St. Joseph River

Jakob Lazzaro / WVPE

South Bend has reached a new agreement with the federal government to improve the city’s sewer system and decrease discharge of raw sewage into the St. Joseph River during heavy rains. The new agreement costs $437 million less and gives the city until 2038 to make improvements.

Back in 2012, the federal government required the city to develop a new plan for its sewer system. During heavy rainstorms, the mixed storm and wastewater system was dumping more than 2 billion gallons of raw sewage a year into the St. Joseph River.


The city has spent about $150 million and cut raw sewage discharge to only 338 million gallons a year. But to fully fix the problem, the 2012 plan required $713 million more in investment by 2031.


Instead, the new plan only costs $276 million and gives the city until 2038. Once completed, the city will capture and treat 99.6 percent of all sewer overflows and virtually eliminate the South Bend sewers as a source for E. Coli bacteria in the river.


Mayor James Mueller said it’s the best of both worlds.


“This is not sacrificing one for the other,” Mueller said.“Our residents will not have to pay as much, but yet will still get the same environmental benefit and a clean St. Joseph River.”


South Bend public works director Eric Horvath said the new plan uses the city’s “smart sewer” system to manage flow and comply with federal and state water quality standards. Over the last decade, the city has collected over 200 million data points on the sewer system thanks to the sensors.


Instead of pouring into the river as it does now during heavy rains, excess wastewater will be diverted by the system into several new storage tanks. Then once the rain has stopped, the wastewater will be sent on to the treatment plant, which is also getting an expansion.


“Before we built this treatment plant in the 50s, all of our sewers went straight to the river for the first 100 years,” Horvath said. “We intercepted that, but you couldn’t handle all the flow from the rain events.”


Horvath said the new plan is also much less disruptive — the old plan required nine storage tanks, including under Leeper and Howard Parks. The new one only needs three.


“We won’t be tearing up the city as much as the previous plan had,” Horvath said.


The plan is being funded by an increase in utility rates, which passed the Common Council earlier this month. The amended federal consent decree will now go through a 30-day public-comment period before final approval.


Contact Jakob at or follow him on Twitter at @JakobLazzaro.

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Jakob Lazzaro came to Indiana from Chicago, where he graduated from Northwestern University in 2020 with a degree in Journalism and a double major in History. Before joining WVPE, he wrote NPR's Source of the Week e-mail newsletter, and previously worked for CalMatters, Pittsburgh's 90.5 WESA and North by Northwestern.