Meridian residents got an inside look at the city’s efforts to comply with its federal consent decree on Tuesday as the City of Meridian held its Consent Decree Town Hall.

Experts in topics ranging from physical infrastructure to project management were available to talk with residents, answer questions and explain what the city’s obligations are moving forward.

Waggoner Engineering Program Manager David Ruhl said the city entered into a consent decree in August 2019 with the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Justice and Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality after a long history of Sanitary Sewer Overflows, or SSOs.

“That’s raw sewage getting into the surface water,” he said.

SSOs can be caused by several factors, Ruhl said, including collapsed or clogged pipes, heavy rain or failures in the wastewater system.

The consent decree is a legal order that lays out, in detail, steps the city will take, programs that will be put in place, construction projects that will be done, reporting requirements and deadlines that will be met along the way, Ruhl said.

“It’s a 19-year schedule,” he said. “Hopefully it will end before that.”

Jason Gault, with Kimley Horn engineering, which is managing the wastewater collection and transportation system, said his focus is making sure the city’s network of pipes, pumps and other equipment is maintained and works well.

Meridian’s wastewater system is made up of 7,600 manholes, more than 320 miles of pipe, 67 pump stations and two treatment plants.

Efforts to repair and replace damaged sections of the city’s sewer infrastructure are ongoing, Gault said, but proper maintenance and upkeep will be crucial to ensure SSOs and other problems with the sewer system do not happen again. To that end, he said, remote monitoring sensors and other technology is being woven into the city’s system to help detect problems early.

Work is also ongoing at the city’s two wastewater treatment facilities. The south wastewater treatment plant is the oldest, with the original plant, which can treat about 4 million gallons per day, built in the 1950s. A 9-million gallon per day addition was added in the 1980s to bring the plant’s total capabilities up to 13 million gallons per day.

Phillip Gibson, with Neel-Schaffer engineering, said the south wastewater treatment plant needs some work to keep it running smoothly.

“The newest part of the plant is 40 years old,” he said.

Two projects are currently in the works for the south plant. The first phase of the plant improvements project is expected to cost $3.5 to $4 million, Gibson said, and a cleanup of a settling pond is expected to cost $4.5 to $5 million.

Gibson said the city is looking to keep the plant in operating condition but is not planning any large renovations until more information is received from the EPA. The EPA is expected to rule on the capacity Meridian’s wastewater treatment plants need to have going forward, he said, and that number will determine whether renovations can be done to the existing plant or if a new plant must be built.

It will likely be a year or two before the EPA makes its determination, Ruhl said.

The city’s east wastewater treatment plant is much newer, Gibson said. It was built in the 2000s and primarily handles wastewater from Naval Air Station Meridian and the Highway 80 Industrial Park. The east plant is able to treat 1 to 2 million gallons per day.

Both wastewater treatment plants send the majority of their treated water north to Kemper County where it is used for cooling at Mississippi Power’s power plant.

The last part of the consent decree has to do with prevention, Ruhl said, with the implementation of nine Capacity, Management, Operations and Maintenance programs. The programs are required by the EPA, he said, and all cities under consent decrees, including Jackson and Greenwood, have to implement them.

CMOM programs help establish the policies and procedures needed to maintain the city’s wastewater treatment system moving forward. They include a legal support program, which examines the city’s ordinances and recommends changes based on best practices and needs in the community, a preventative maintenance program, an emergency response plan and more.

Of the nine programs, the one the public will be the most involved with is the Fats, Oils and Grease program. Grease and oils poured down drains can coagulate and cause blockages in the city’s sewer system.

Under the FOG program, Ruhl said, the city will work with local restaurants to make sure oils and grease are being disposed of properly, help educate residents about what can and cannot be put down the drain and develop enforcement of the city’s FOG ordinance with citations, fines, court summons and even jail time if necessary.

Over the next few years, Ruhl said Meridian residents will begin to see a lot more construction going on as the consent decree effort moves into the building phase. The first few years have focused heavily on project design, he said, and those designs are now nearing ready to be bid out to contractors.

More information about the city’s consent decree can be found online at

Contact Thomas Howard on Twitter @tmhoward

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