Kansas City’s sewer system is made up of combined and separate sewers. In a separate sewer system, stormwater and wastewater are collected in two different pipes. The wastewater is routed to a wastewater treatment plant for treatment and the stormwater flows directly to nearby rivers and streams without treatment. A combined sewer system collects stormwater and wastewater in the same pipe. The wastewater and stormwater collected is routed to a wastewater treatment plant for treatment.
During periods of moderate or heavy rainfall, sewer systems can reach capacity, overflow, and discharge a mixture of wastewater and stormwater into our streams and rivers. The discharge of water from combined sewer overflows is not uncommon, and some overflow from these systems is allowed under national discharge permits.
Separate sewer systems are not typically designed to overflow, but broken joints, pipes, and manholes can allow stormwater to enter the pipes, causing the separate system to overflow during heavy rainfall.
The Smart Sewer program addresses overflows from both the combined and separate sewer systems by reducing the number of combined sewer system overflows by 88%, and repairing separate systems to eliminate overflows.
It’s old. More than 150 years ago, Kansas City began building the basic sewer infrastructure that would allow the city to grow and prosper. Some parts of the system are over 50, 100, even 150 years old, and still in use today. Built of clay pipes and in some cases housed inside tunnels lined with brick, these systems have succumbed to age and the forces of nature, and must be updated and replaced.
It’s big. Kansas City’s aging, overall sanitary sewer system comprises both combined and separate sewer systems covering approximately 318 square miles — totaling 2,800 miles of wastewater pipes. Stacked end-to-end, that is the distance from Los Angeles to New York City.
It’s essential. Improving and maintaining our shared sewer system is vital to protecting the health of our entire community, including our local streams and rivers. The Smart Sewer program was created in direct response to the EPA’s federally mandated requirement to improve water quality by reducing wastewater overflows.
KC Water’s $4.5 billion Smart Sewer program is funded solely through wastewater revenues. This requires significant wastewater rate increases, resulting in higher bills paid by KC Water customers. Customers have faced years of double-digit rate increases, which have more than doubled the average monthly bill. Before implementing this unfunded program to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act, customers paid an average monthly bill of $48 in 2009. Current average residential bills now total over $100 per month and the City must continue to raise rates annually to meet the requirements of the Consent Decree.
In 2017, Kansas City’s mayoral-appointed task force began reviewing possible solutions to the City’s growing cost-of-service concerns. The result has been a resounding recommendation to the City to find other cost-efficient solutions to meet the Consent Decree and to work with the EPA to implement those options. In 2018, Kansas City began negotiations with the EPA to implement a major modification to the City’s Consent Decree. Negotiations are still ongoing, and once a resolution has been reached the City will be able to provide details on the modification.
To reduce the customer impact of this federally mandated program, KC Water continues to work with the EPA to modify the Consent Decree to reduce both the heavy financial burden on rate payers and size of future utility rate increases. In addition to rate relief, the proposed modifications will include the expanded use of green infrastructure in the combined sewer system and system-wide sewer improvements.
Green infrastructure helps our community manage stormwater the way nature intended by capturing and utilizing rainwater where it falls. This decreases the amount of water getting into our pipes. It also reduces flooding, pollution, and trash in our streams, rivers, and lakes.
Kansas City's Green Infrastructure Story Map explains what happens to stormwater after it falls from the sky, and why green infrastructure is an integral part of the cities of tomorrow. Features of the story map also include a watershed look-up map and a tour of highlighted GSI projects built by the City.
A variety of improvement projects are taking place across the city as part of the Smart Sewer program. View the Smart Sewer Projects page to search for projects affecting a selected address.
Contact 311 to report sewer-related concerns such as sewer odors, basement backups, or stormwater issues.