Billions of gallons of water and sewage move under Evansville streets every year, except one part on the south side where the sewer is exposed.
If you drive by the area, known as Bee Slough, on Veterans Memorial Parkway near the waste water treatment plant, you can often smell the sewage.
The “Renew Evansville” project, set to begin later this year, will turn the concrete ditch into a wetlands area, home to plants and birds, while cutting down on the stench.
Bee Slough was originally a natural water way, and evolved into an extension of the sewer system as Evansville gained indoor plumbing in the 1800’s.
For decades it has collected sewer overflow, and often it sits and smells, until it drains off to the treatment plant.
But the federal government says cities across the country must clean up their water systems, and now hundreds of communities across the country are in a similar spot as Evansville, tasked with spending millions of dollars to improve the sewer system, or face penalties from Washington.
Evansville Water & Sewer engineer, Mike Labitzke says it’s a challenge to create a solution for the entire Evansville sewer system.
The first phase in Bee Slough will cost nearly $150 million and it will install a sewer line, inlets to treatment, and pump stations.
Officials say construction will start later this year and it will take 15 years to finish. When it’s done, it will be the largest wetland treatment system in the United States.
The entire “Renew Evansville” project is tabbed at $729 million and is the city’s largest-ever capital improvement project. It will upgrade the aging and outdated sewer system in downtown, the west side, while improving treatment plants and lift stations.
Labitzke says Evansville releases 2 billion gallons of sewer overflow into the Ohio River and Pigeon Creek every year, and the mandate requires the utility to reduce that by 98 percent.
When the whole project is complete in 25 years, Evansville will reduce its overflow release from 45 times to just 4 times per year, while eliminating the odor at Bee Slough for neighbors.
“Over time that smell will reduce and go away, hopefully it’ll be negligible in the future,” Labitzke says.
Evansville will have to raise sewer rates to pay for the project, but officials aren’t sure by how much. It will have to pass through city council as an ordinance first.
“We are required to fix the problem and the problem is going to take money to fix,” adds Labitzke.
Shedding the smell, some say, is worth its weight in sewage.