Dig Indy tunnel

A tunnel boring machine 250 feet underground. (Photo provided)

Working with sewage isn’t glamorous, but the workers at Citizen Energy’s Dig Indy project may make Indianapolis a cleaner — and more prosperous — place to live. 

Right now, thanks to an outdated system, heavy rainfall can lead to sewage in Indianapolis being released back out into neighborhoods before it reaches a sewage treatment facility. This combined sewage overflow, which happens in predominately Black and brown communities, can lead to health problems such as E. Coli and salmonella. In Indianapolis, the current sewer system can overflow over 60 times a year.

Mike Miller, construction manager for the $2 billion Dig Indy project, said after the project is completed in 2025, 95% to 99% of combined sewage will be prevented from entering local waterways. The project, which began in 2012 in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act, consists of six rock tunnels 250 feet underground stretching for 28 miles. 

“The tunnels collect sewage at discreet points,” Miller said. “It goes into small brick enclosures and those are basically big storage tanks … so when it rains, the sewage will go into a tunnel and wait until the rain is done to prevent it from going into to the river.”

So far, Miller said the project has collected over 2 billion gallons of sewage.

“These waterways are parts of much larger systems,” Miller said. “It also benefits our friends to the north and south. … Our combined sewage won’t be impacting our downstream neighbors.”

Dan Considine, director of corporate communications for Citizen’s Energy, knows firsthand the impact cleaner water can have on a community. Growing up in Chicago, Considine remembers seeing signs warning against fishing in the open water, or children playing in the creek — which he described as basically an open sewer — due to sewage overflow. 

Once Chicago updated its sewer system, however, Considine recalls an increase in jobs and recreation along the water, which helped to boost the local economy. 

“In the 1990s when they began to build the tunnels and after 25 years, the rivers and streams in the Chicago area have really been reformed,” Considine said. “ … If you go to the Chicago River today, you can catch bluegill and bass, and Lake Michigan has benefitted immensely. There have been tremendous quality of life improvements, and what used to be old factories and warehouses that closed in the ‘70s and ‘80s are now houses and businesses because the water is clean again. We could see that in Indianapolis.”

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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