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Lower Projected Wastewater Rate Increases and Additional Green Infrastructure Ahead for Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, MO — A federal judge recently signed the long-negotiated Third Amended Consent Decree agreed upon by the City of Kansas City, Missouri, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of Justice, which focuses on reducing wet weather overflows from the city’s sewer systems.

“We are thrilled to announce this achievement,” said Kansas City Manager Brian Platt. “A lot of people put in a lot of hours over the past three years to make this happen. This is a great milestone, but there is still a lot of work ahead of us.” 

“When I came into office, renegotiation of the EPA consent decree was a top priority,” Mayor Quinton Lucas said. “Since August 2019, I have met with our federal elected officials, administrators, and rate payers with concerns about being able to afford their increasing bills. Kansas City staff has been working on this project for many years prior.

“Today, I am proud to share details of our consent decree agreement, which will save Kansas Citians millions over the long term and achieve our climate sustainability goals. By using green infrastructure and working with neighborhoods, we are reducing overall costs of this program and protecting our environment. Thank you to Congressman Cleaver, Senator Blunt, and our entire bi-state Congressional delegation for advocating for Kansas Citians and working to make this a reality.”

The original Consent Decree dates back to 2010 and required Kansas City to reduce the volume and frequency of wet weather sewer overflows into the environment. It was originally planned as a 25-year, $4.5-billion to $5-billion program that resulted in dozens of important improvement projects, but it also started several years of double-digit wastewater rate increases for KC Water customers.

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“We recognize the financial impact the Smart Sewer program has had on our customers, and we don’t take that lightly,” said KC Water Director Terry Leeds.

This amendment allows the city to use newer technology to reduce overflows from the sewer system. The city also has more opportunities to use green infrastructure to deliver a high level of wet weather control and multiple community benefits at a smaller cost. All of this means less dependency on large gray infrastructure, which would continue high rate increases to support the program.

Future wastewater increases are expected to remain moderate. The city intends to raise rates 6 percent or less annually to fund its wastewater system improvements to comply with the modified decree and maintain the current infrastructure.

“We were able to show the EPA that Kansas City’s median household income didn’t keep up with projections, which resulted in a high financial burden on many of our customers. This modification reduces the scope and costs of the program through 2035,” Leeds said.

Several people, including federal and local lawmakers, wastewater and stormwater experts, and citizens who made their voices heard, played a role in advocating for changes to the consent decree. Members of Congress on both sides of the party lines, responded, including U.S. Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) and U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO). 

In 2018, both Sen. Blunt and Congressman Cleaver urged the administration to support modifications to the Kansas City sewer overflow control program to help protect Kansas City residents from costly utility rate increases.

“I’m glad that the changes announced will bring relief to those who need it most without hampering Kansas City’s progress in completing the largest public works project in its history,” Sen. Blunt said after the EPA’s announcement of the third amendment modification.

“I applaud the renegotiation of the overflow control program Consent Decree. The proposed modification comes at a moment when many Kansas Citians are collectively working to navigate the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic and looking for relief,” said Congressman Cleaver in his news release.

The modification eliminates the requirement for some very expensive projects, such as underground storage tunnels through 2035, and extends the final compliance date from 2035 to 2040.

KC Water ensures the accessibility and quality of water services to meet the growing needs of the region by investing in the future of water, wastewater, and stormwater systems. KC Water maintains and operates water collection, treatment, and distribution systems; wastewater collection and treatment systems; and stormwater management systems for 170,000 residential and business customers in Kansas City and for 32 wholesale customers in the Kansas City region.

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