Davenport could save

$250 million through a legal victory by the Iowa League of Cities over the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s wastewater treatment rules.

In a ruling that documents say could save cities across the country $150 billion, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down two EPA rules.

The decision, released Tuesday, affects the way cities mix water to dilute the bacteria levels near recreational areas and how cities treat wastewater during heavy rains.

Along with Davenport, the cities of Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Ottumwa and Waterloo also are affected. The League of Cities lost its first challenge to EPA rules in 2010, but refiled it in 2011.

Davenport, with a shared sewer treatment system that also serves Bettendorf, Riverdale and Panorama Park, has a consent order with the EPA and Iowa Department of Natural Resources that requires the city to take steps to prevent untreated wastewater from being released into the Mississippi River, especially in heavy rain events.

Davenport’s current plan includes construction of an equalization basin that early cost estimates have put at $50 million. The ruling states that the EPA can set requirements, but not dictate how those requirements are met.

The attorney for the Iowa League of Cities, Gary Cohen, said the EPA was trying to impose hundreds of billions of dollars of costs on cities across the country with new directives without going through the required rulemaking process. He said the court ruling means such requirements cannot be imposed.

It would have cost Des Moines between $80 million and $200 million and Ottumwa up to $60 million, according to court records. In the decision, the judges noted the hardship placed on cities by the directives.

The ruling doesn’t erase the requirements on the cities, Bettendorf City Attorney Greg Jager said.

“Those requirements still exist for the cities, and we will continue to work toward limiting stormwater input into the sanitary system,” Jager said. “I think we still may need a storage facility if the stormwater cannot be stopped or reduced, but this decision at this time allows the cities some freedom in deciding how to meet the effluent limitations.

“It will be important as we decide when, how, whether to do system upgrades in the future.”

Construction of the westside diversion tunnel and efforts to reduce stormwater infiltration into the wastewater system are steps Davenport is taking to meet the terms of the consent order.

“This will be helpful to Davenport, as we continue to work with the IDNR under the framework of our consent order,” Davenport City Administrator Craig Malin said of the decision. “Optimizing the size of the equalization basin, which is scheduled for design in 2025, can save millions.”

Clinton City Engineer Jason Craft said the EPA ruling will not have an impact on Clinton’s agreement with the EPA to address long-standing stormwater issues, which included the construction of a $37.6 million treatment plant.

Moline and Rock Island, undergoing wastewater system renovations and expansions, aren’t specifically affected by the rulings.

Like Davenport, Rock Island also has a consent agreement with the EPA that included a $66 million improvement plan to the city’s sewer infrastructure.

Moline has made improvements to its system, at both treatment plants — South Slope near SouthPark Mall and North Slope near Sylvan Slough.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)