INDIANAPOLIS – Citizens Energy Group is just weeks away from starting work on a massive tunnel system that will hold raw sewage as it waits to be treated.
In the meantime, billions of gallons of raw sewage continue to pour into Indianapolis’ rivers and streams because the aging system often overflows.
“You certainly don’t want to have contact with it,” said Kevin Hardie, an environmentalist who heads up Friends of the White River. He was talking about the White River and several area waterways that are heavily polluted because of the longtime problem.
“I refer to combined sewer overflow sometimes as ‘hepatitis cocktails’ because anything that is flushed down a toilet or goes down a drain can run into the water when there’s high water,” said Hardie.
Even a quarter of an inch of rain can cause the system to overflow. At that point, rain water and sewage is mixed together and dumped into the waterways at 144 spots, mostly in and around the downtown area.
”Five to six billion gallons of raw sewage goes into our rivers and streams every single year,” said Sarah Holsapple with Citizens Energy Group. “In a couple of weeks, that boring machine will be turned on, and it’ll bore through bedrock.”
There is one catch: the project is expensive. The latest estimate is $1.6 billion.
Citizens, a nonprofit, has asked a regulatory commission permission for a rate hike that would translate into a $13 increase on the average bill in 2014. It would gradually increase beginning in January.
“We’re hoping to see more recreational activity on the rivers and streams, maybe commercial real estate or residential real estate. It will be a much different place than people see right now,” said Holsapple.
Holsapple and Hardie both believe development along the waterways could create real potential for the city, but the entire project will not be complete until 2025.
In the meantime, Hardie asked that residents pay attention to the warning signs posted about the dangers of swimming and fishing in the water once the weather warms up.