Wastewater and flooding, how much is dumped into rivers?

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Local governments have more to worry about during a flood than just keeping water out of places where it doesn’t belong.

The flooding also causes problems when it comes to safely getting rid of sewage.

It’s not uncommon for waste water treatment facilities everywhere to dump treated sewage into local rivers on a normal basis, but when big storms happen the facilities take in an excessive amount of water causing them to dump millions of gallons of partially treated or untreated sewage into our waterways.

So the question is…how much of that waste water is dumped into rivers around Mid-Michigan?

“This event was an extreme event, typically our flows here at the plant are 2.7 M.G.D., million gallons a day is what we treat and discharge into the Looking Glass River,” said Brad Gurski; Director of Operations for the Southern Clinton County Municipal Utilities Authority.

But because of the recent flooding, Gurski says 170 thousand gallons of untreated sewage was dumped in to the areas storm drain.

Gurski says it happens when the waste water plant takes on too much unexpected water creating something called an “SSO” which means “Sanitary Sewer Overflow.”

“So that’s anytime a pipe cannot handle the design capacity or the design amount of gallon age accepted in to a station or a plant…at that time, it can surcharge a manhole and then go to a receiving stream along the way,” Gurski stated.

For the city of Lansing, Public Service Director Andy Kilpatrick says usually all sewage is completely treated before its dumped into rivers, but when large amounts of rain and flooding are thrown in to the mix Kilpatrick says the situation is handled differently.

Typically the city treats up to 35 million gallons of sewage every day but when the flooding reached its peak, Kilpatrick says the city was treating 84 million gallons.

Now that number has gone down to 60 million gallons of wastewater per day.

“Anytime we have a flood event whether it is something we are able to predict or not, we can treat only so much wastewater completely before we have to discharge in to basins, basically holding areas which are partially treated and then the excess flow that we cannot completely treat is discharged into the river partially treated,” said Kilpatrick.

City officials say residents shouldn’t worry because within a few hours, the sewage that is partially treated or untreated is under control.

But just to be safe, they don’t recommend drinking or even swimming in rivers after it floods.

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