Frequently Asked Questions

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In order to simplify the understanding of the City's complex CSO problems, the following frequently asked questions and corresponding answers are provided for a quick reference.

For the combined sewer system and sewer overflow projects, we need millions of dollars in capital revenue over the next twenty years. Our capital needs include:

  • The next 20 years of the City’s federally mandated long-term plan to control combined sewage overflows
  • Maintenance and upgrades for our wastewater treatment plant
  • Rehabilitation of aging sewers

Terre Haute’s sewer system is old and cannot handle the amounts of stormwater that flow through it during storm events. This system was built over 100 years ago, before wastewater treatment plants existed. It was common in many U.S. cities, especially in the Northeast and Midwest, to connect their sanitary lines to the existing storm sewers. As a result, now any time we get as much as a quarter inch of rain, combined sewage flows into the Wabash River through our combined sewer overflows (CSO). If CSO’s didn’t exist, combined sewage would back up into people’s basements and streets.

In the late 1800’s, Terre Haute built a sewer system to carry rainwater and melting snow away from homes, businesses, and streets. When indoor plumbing came later, people hooked their sewage lines to the storm sewers, combining stormwater and sewage in one pipe.

Combined raw sewage in our streams is a health hazard due to increased levels of bacteria, including E. coli, present in the river. It also hurts our environment, harms the quality of life in our neighborhoods and damages the aesthetic appearance of the river.

The City is implementing an IDEM approved long-term plan to reduce sewer overflows over the next 20 years. It will:

  • Protect public health and improve the quality of life in many neighborhoods and also in Fairbanks Park
  • Reduce significantly the number of days exceeding water quality standards
  • Make the Wabash River safer for fish
  • Reduce odors and capture toilet paper, sanitary waste, and other unsightly floatable materials found in overflowing sewers
  • Eliminate bottleneck and backup areas
  • Provide necessary upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant
  • Rehabilitate many of our larger brick sewers to help transport and maximize treatment
  • Utilize our large system for storage so more material gets to the wastewater treatment plant
  • Eliminate all floatable materials from the River

The Wabash River will be a cleaner, safer place for residents of Terre Haute and aquatic life in the river, especially around Fairbanks Park where many community events take place. These improvements will also help prevent sinkholes in roads due to collapsed sewers, prevent backups into basements and streets, and allow for better flow to the wastewater treatment plant. Additionally, the improvement will allow the City to become in compliance with state and federal requirements and thus avoid any potential fines.

In addition to our long-term plan to reduce sewer overflows, we must upgrade our treatment plant and rehabilitate any older sewers which may be causing problems within the City. These improvements will fix many problems the City currently faces: sinkholes, ponding water, and unpleasant odors being only a few.

Our goal is not to make the Wabash River swimmable 100 percent of the time. A few large storms will cause overflows even after the new facilities are built. Our plan is the most cost-effective way to meet federal requirements and at the same time protect public health and the environment.

Whenever possible, locally owned and operated businesses will participate in the work. When local businesses benefit, other local companies that serve those businesses and their employees will also benefit. This will allow Terre Haute to continue to grow and attract new business opportunities. Additionally, a healthy infrastructure attracts new businesses and residents, causing the City to grow and expand. With the new improvements, the wastewater treatment facility will also be equipped to handle greater flows, leaving room for the City to grow.

Every city that outlets their combined sewage into the river is either working now, or will be working to reduce or eliminate their CSO’s. As more communities begin to implement their long-term control plans, the condition of the Wabash River will greatly improve.

Improving our environment and our neighborhoods is a large job, and everyone can help. Some things you can do to help:

  • Disconnect downspouts and sump pumps connected to the sewers.
  • Properly dispose of motor oil, antifreeze, battery acid, and other household chemicals.
  • Reduce water use in homes and businesses.
  • Clear gutters and storm sewer drains of leaves and debris.
  • Compost leaves, branches, and grass clippings.
  • Properly dispose of fats, oils, and grease. Do not wash these down the drain.
  • Avoid flushing items such as tampons and condoms. These items can clog pipes, causing backups.
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  • Every year millions of gallons of combined sewage, stormwater, and debris overflow to the Wabash River.
  • The overflows cause increased E. coli readings and other pollution to the river.
  • The City of Terre Haute is undertaking a program to reduce the number of overflows to the river.
  • The goal of the CSO Reduction Program is to have a cleaner city, resulting in a cleaner river.