The Gateway City is building a massive tunnel system to capture billions of gallons of polluted storm water before it reaches the Mississippi. This is not a tunnel for commuter trains or cars. It’s more of a horizontal well, and when it is complete in 2020, it will capture up to 12 million gallons of sewage-contaminated storm water, keeping it out of the Mississippi River. In effect, it will be a giant septic tank. St. Louis is building a gargantuan system, including 28 miles of storage tunnels, to handle the city’s most stomach-churning water pollution problem. About 50 times a year, after major rainstorms, St. Louis’ sewers overflow, and 13 billion gallons of sewage-contaminated storm water escapes into the Mississippi River and its tributaries. The nasty problem is built into the cities’ infrastructure, a relic of early 20th-century engineering practices that were considered engineering triumphs in their day. The sewer systems, built decades ago, combine storm water and wastewater in the same pipes. On normal days, those millions of gallons of waste pass through a treatment plant. But after storms, the sewers become overwhelmed and the treatment plants can’t keep up. Instead of allowing the excess water to back up into streets and basements, the solution from decades past was to build overflow valves that divert some of the untreated flow into the nearest waterway.
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