Project Reduces Pollution In St. Joseph River

Aug 25, 2015

The St. Joseph River near Johnny Appleseed park
Credit Lisa Ryan, WBOI News

Fort Wayne just completed a project that will decrease the amount of sewage overflowing into the St. Joseph River. The project took less time and money to complete than expected.

Fort Wayne’s sewers are combined to carry both sewage and stormwater runoff. During heavy rains, the water could overflow into the rivers, causing pollution. And that means flooding in homes could be more than just rainwater.

A 2008 federal mandate required Fort Wayne and other cities to reduce the number of these overflows. The project was completed four years ahead of schedule, and was financed through an increase in utility rates.

So far it has cost more than $12 million, but city officials say that’s less than was expected.

Matthew Wirtz speaks during a press conference in front of the St. Joseph River.
Credit Lisa Ryan, WBOI News

Director of City Utilities Matthew Wirtz says even though rate increases are not ideal, the federal government doesn’t provide any money for the mandate.

“I think community support has been great. I mean, our council votes have been very supportive, the community has been receptive,” Wirtz said. “Not happy about increased rates, but understand that reducing overflow, improving water quality is worth it.”

The construction keeps 16 million gallons of overflow out of the St. Joseph River, which is especially important for the city’s drinking water.

The next stage of the project is building a five-mile tunnel under the city to prevent overflow into the Maumee and St. Marys rivers.