South Bend, Mishawaka spend millions on stormwater projects

Published: Jul. 14, 2016 at 5:44 PM EDT
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Some Michiana cities are spending millions of dollars on projects to clean up the St. Joseph River.

And Mishawaka is in the planning stage for a $140 million plan to drill a new sewer tunnel.

The 7,000 foot tunnel will be 70 feet underground and is designed to handle excess wastewater that would otherwise flow right into the river.

While the St. Joseph River remains a big draw for fisherman and families, city leaders in South Bend and Mishawaka are getting more serious about what they allow to flow into the water.

“Since we've started this long-term control plan, we've spent $148 million,” South Bend’s Director of CSO Project Management Kieran Fahey said.

The problem cities like South Bend and Mishawaka face is that during heavy rains, storm sewers can fill quickly and water treatment plants have more water than they can treat. The excess water is then funneled to the river through what are called combined sewer outflows or CSO's. Recently, the EPA has passed tougher restrictions in America which means cities have to cut those CSOs down to practically zero.

“They're giving cities 20, sometimes 30 years to complete their projects. Because they're very complex, you're actually redesigning an existing sewer system,” Mishawaka’s Wastewater Division Manager Karl Kopec said.

“We've implemented a smart sewer network, whereby we have between 150 and 170 sensors at any particular time across the city, which allow us to real-time control so we can maximize the capacity of resources to make sure the capacity is fully utilized before anything flows into the river,” Fahey said.

After its most recent expansion, Mishawaka's wastewater treatment plant can clean up around four billion gallons of water a year. The next vision is to drill a seven thousand foot sewer tunnel 70 feet below ground along 3rd Street.

“It's going to be the largest public works project in the history of the city of Mishawaka, in terms of dollars. But most people will never see it,” Kopec said.

There are no federal dollars up for grabs to pay for the work. South Bend's portion involves nine projects, seven of which will be large storage tanks around the city to capture and treat excess water.

Ultimately, the plan is to have a much more beneficial, much more beautiful, much more attractive St. Joseph River as it flows through the city.

Mishawaka’s tunnel project is currently in the design phase, which is expected to continue until spring of 2017.

The plan is to finish the tunnel by Christmas time in 2021, that's still around 10 years before the 2031 mandate the EPA gave the city.