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KCMO sewer bond issue next step in Clean Water Act compliance

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Posted at 6:47 PM, Apr 07, 2022
and last updated 2023-11-09 14:18:47-05

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Nearly four out of five Kansas City, Missouri, residents who went to the polls Tuesday voted yes on allowing the city to issue $750 million in sanitary sewer revenue bonds.

It’s a key step as the city works toward compliance with the Clean Water Act after reaching a multi-billion dollar agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency in 2010.

Rate increases will pay for the revenue bonds in coming years.

Terms of the consent decree lodged in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri on May 18, 2010, requires KCMO to implement an overflow control plan for its sewer system.

According to the EPA, there were nearly 1,300 illegal sewer overflows in the eight years before the consent decree, and Kansas City’s overflow problem led to an estimated 7 billion gallons of raw sewage being released into local streams and rivers annually in violation of the Clean Water Act and National Discharge Elimination System permits.

Kansas City voters approved $500 million in revenue bonds in 2012, but those were exhausted last year, prompting the new ballot question.

All bond-funded wastewater projects are subject to city council approval, but passage of the bond issue also provided KCMO access to federal and state funding sources, according to the city.

Kansas City, which paid a $600,000 civil penalty as part of the consent decree, was required to install disinfection treatment systems at all wastewater treatment plants by 2013.

The city also has rehabbed more than 234 miles of sewer and created 287 green acres out of a minimum 480 green acres proposed within the combined sewer system as part of the amended consent decree.

The initial consent decree, which was expected to cost more than $2.5 billion, was amended in 2015 and again in January 2021.

The amendment last year lowered the city’s financial responsibility for capital improvement projects related to the consent decree to $1.4 billion and extended the final compliance date to 2040.

KC Water said the five-year extension will allow them to keep annual rate increases for its customers in the 2-to-6% range rather than the 6-to-9% range.

The city also said it lowered the total cost of the project from $4.7 billion to $2.3 billion.

Much of the work is meant to address the combined sewer system, which was installed decades ago in downtown and older parts of Kansas City.

New construction already has separate sanitary sewer and stormwater systems.

KCMO achieved 45% overflow control capture in 2012, and the initial consent decree proposed increasing that to 88% by 2035.

The amended agreement calls for 77% overflow capture by 2035 and 85% by 2040.

Additional KCMO questions

KCMO voters also renewed a 22-cent tax levy for ambulance service and health-care services in the city with 76.6% of the vote.

Most of the tax levy — 15 cents — helps fund University Health, formerly known as Truman Medical Centers, while the remaining 7-cent tax levy is divided evenly between ambulance services and nonprofit neighborhood health centers.

With voter approval, the tax levy was extended for another nine years.

Nearly 74% of voters also signed off on removing a 6.82-acre parcel located west of Searcy Creek Parkway between Missouri 210 and Northeast 36th Street from the KCMO Board of Parks and Recreation.

The land was determined “to be no longer necessary or appropriate for park, parkway, or boulevard use.”