Metro-East News

Raw sewage is flowing into Mississippi upriver from drinking water intake

Raw sewage, storm water pumped into Mississippi River

Each day, about 2 million gallons of raw sewage and storm water are being pumped into the Mississippi River because of a sewer main break. The sewage is upstream from the area's main drinking water intake.
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Each day, about 2 million gallons of raw sewage and storm water are being pumped into the Mississippi River because of a sewer main break. The sewage is upstream from the area's main drinking water intake.

The Metro East Sanitary District is dumping roughly 2 million gallons of raw sewage every day into the Mississippi River north of downtown St. Louis after a main sewer line broke, leaving untreated sewage with nowhere else to go.

That’s enough sewage to fill three Olympic-sized swimming pools a day.

Illinois American Water’s intake pipe is about 2.5 miles downstream from the sewage discharge. The East St. Louis riverfront plant provides drinking water for most of St. Clair County’s residents.

The sewage is significantly diluted before it reaches the plant because millions of gallons of water flow down the Mississippi each minute, said Illinois American spokeswoman Karen Cotton. The water company would have adjusted treatment had plant operators noticed a change, she said.

“Our customers can rest assured that they continue to receive high-quality drinking water and that our team continues to monitor water quality and test the water source at intake and through the treatment process,” Cotton wrote in an email.

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency notified Chester Water Plant Supervisor Tim Crow that raw sewage would be discharged into the river about 50 miles upstream, Chester Mayor Tom Page said.

“I believe we had to increase chlorine and fluoride levels, but the water is treated after it comes out of the river and we believe it is fine,” Page said.

sewer break 1
A mixture of raw sewage and storm water lines a sinkhole at the Madison Pump Station that led to a state EPA decision to pump the mixture into the Mississippi until the water table drops enough to allow for safe repairs. (George Pawlaczyk/News-Democrat)

Illinois Environmental Protection Agency spokeswoman Kim Biggs did not respond to an email seeking comment.

The pipe broke at about 9:30 p.m. May 9, according to Madison Mayor John Hamm. It can’t be fixed until the river level drops because it is so close to the levee.

“As soon as the river drops, we have a game plan with equipment pre-positioned so we are locked and loaded to begin fixing it,” said Steve Adler, the executive director of the Metro East Sanitary District.

Any digging near the levee before the water level drops could cause a breach, according to Amanda Kruse, spokeswoman for the Army Corps of Engineers.

“We do not want to create a bigger sinkhole,” Adler said.

The pipe carries an average of 2 million gallons a day of mixed storm water and sewage to the Granite City Waste Water Treatment plant in America’s Central Port. The break occurred near the Madison-Venice pump station at the base of the Merchant’s Bridge, which carries trains across the river about a half-mile from the treatment plant.

The break occurred when Madison’s 42-inch pipe broke, eroding the dirt under the MESD’s 24-inch line, Adler said.

“At the time of the break, there just happened to be someone in the pump station,” said MESD Board Member Don Sawicki. “He said it sounded like a very large bang.”

Our customers can rest assured that they continue to receive high-quality drinking water and that our team continues to monitor water quality and test the water source at intake and through the treatment process

Karen Cotton, Illinois American Water

The sewage is currently being pumped into a catch basin adjacent to the the Madison-Venice pump station by large portable electric pumps, which then divert it directly into the Mississippi River. The repair will cost MESD “hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Adler said. Hamm said he didn’t have numbers yet for the repair to Madison’s sewer line.

The break occurred just two weeks before Adler took over from long-time MESD Executive Director Bob Shipley. Adler said the break illustrates some of his goals for MESD, including separating storm water from sewage, reducing the amount of water that needs to go to Granite City for treatment.

Eliminating storm water from the liquids pumped into the treatment plant “would save millions,” Sawicki said.

Granite City passed a $12 million bond issue to improve their sewer pipe system, said Mayor Ed Hagnauer. The pipes are now impenetrable to storm water. Granite City estimated that 54 to 55 percent of what is treated at their waste water treatment facility is storm water. After the pipes were fixed, Hagnauer said storm water treatment dropped to 46 to 48 percent with the modest difference resulting in saving “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

The MESD sewer lines are old and dilapidated, Adler said, necessitating the need to repair and replace.

But until the repair is made to the main line, sewage will continue to flow into the Mississippi River.

“Well, we don’t like it,” Adler said. “But there simply is no other place for it to go.”

Beth Hundsdorfer: 618-239-2570, @bhundsdorfer

George Pawlaczyk: 618-239-2625, @gapawlaczyk

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