Black Illinois community sues water district over ‘stream of sewage’

The Mississippi River is pictured flowing at 800,000 CFS (cubic feet per second) measured by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in St. Louis, Missouri, December 31, 2015. Missouri and Illinois were bracing for more flooding on Thursday as rain-swollen rivers, some at record heights, overflowed their banks, washing out hundreds of structures and leaving thousands of people displaced from their homes. REUTERS/Kate Munsch

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  • Allegations that "raw sewage pools in yards" runs unpermitted into U.S. waters
  • Plaintiffs claim violations of Clean Water Act, Constitution’s taking clause

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(Reuters) – Residents of a Black, low-income community in southern Illinois on Tuesday sued their water district in East St. Louis federal court, alleging that it has for years been discharging raw sewage into their neighborhood in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The residents of Centreville, until recently a town of 5,000 people that was renamed Cahokia Heights following a merger with other municipalities, sued the Commonfields of Cahokia Public Water District with claims that its "dysfunctional" sewage system results in "raw sewage pools in yards" flowing unpermitted, as stormwater enters deteriorated pipes, into tributaries of the Mississippi River.

The water district and the city’s mayor did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"The horrific sanitary conditions that Centreville residents face day in and day out is another example of municipal indifference that Black, low-income communities face in America," said Nicole Nelson, the executive director of advocacy group Equity Legal Services and one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, in a statement.

The plaintiffs claim that failures of their sewage system for at least the past five years "pose grave health risks" to residents and damage their homes.

Their complaint seeks a declaration from the court that Commonfields and the city of Cahokia Heights violate the CWA by discharging raw sewage into federal waters without a permit.

The plaintiffs also claim that the water district and the city violate the U.S. Constitution’s takings clause by using their property for public use without just compensation.

The case is Centreville Citizens for Change et al v. Cahokia Heights et al, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, No. 3:21-cv-00842.

For Centreville Citizens for Change et al: Nicole Nelson of Equity Legal Services and Anna Sewell of Earthjustice.

Sebastien Malo reporters on environmental, climate and energy litigation. Reach him at

via Reuters

July 20, 2021 at 10:37PM

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