Mississippi city’s sewers dumped nearly 45 million gallons of wastewater into environment

Published 9:03 pm Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Nearly 45 million gallons of untreated wastewater was released over a four-month period into the environment due to sewer failures in Mississippi’s capital, according to the latest quarterly report the city submitted to federal regulators.

The report, required under Jackson’s sewer consent decree, covers the period from Dec. 1 through March 21, WLBT-TV reported. It was submitted April 30.

During the reporting period, 259 sewer overflows were reported in Jackson, which released more than 44.7 million gallons of sewage into the environment. An estimated 33.9 million gallons went into waters classified as “Waters of the U.S.” Under terms of its sewer decree, the city is fined for each overflow that reaches one of those waters.

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Jackson entered into the decree in 2012 with the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice to bring its sewer system into compliance with federal water quality laws.

According to the city’s annual report, Jackson does not have the funding or the manpower to address overflows or other decree mandates. City officials said Jackson also has equipment issues. According to the report, two of the city’s four trucks used to clean grease and solids out of clogged lines were down for repairs.

Of the 259 sewage overflows included in the April report, 182 were caused due to solids and grease clogging the lines. The city blames many of the clogs on flushable wipes which can “cause backups in the system and contribute to the buildup of foreign materials.”

Another 60 overflows were the result of collapsed lines, while three were caused by sewer pump failures and 10 were the results of excessive flow.

At the time the report was submitted, 142 of the overflows had not been resolved.

Abby Braman, with Pearl Riverkeeper, a local environmental watchdog group, estimated more than 52 million gallons of sewage entered the environment during the first quarter of 2022.

“That’s enough to fill 100 Olympic-sized pools with raw sewage,” she told the city council Tuesday. “That’s more sewage than the total amount released in 2018 and 2019 combined.”

She urged Jackson to prioritize water and sewer funding to address those concerns.

Braman also took the city to task for failing to notify the public of major spills.

Under the city’s Sewer Overflow Response Plan, which also was handed down with its decree, the city must issue a news release and place temporary signs in areas of overflows when they create a “significant health hazard or (when a) significant volume has reached waters of the U.S. and/or state.”

The last public advisory was issued Sept. 15, 2021, when an overflow impacted a section of Eubanks Creek, stretching from Interstate 55 to the Pearl River. Since then, the city’s news release archive shows just one sewer-related notice was issued, on March 11, asking people not to flush disposable wipes down the toilet.

By Braman’s count, more than a dozen more public notices should have been distributed.

“I think I counted 14 that were over 1 million gallons. I don’t know what they consider a significant volume. I went to the EPA and MDEQ to change the wording, and asked them to designate a certain volume to require notification,” she said.

Jackson is currently renegotiating the terms of its consent decree with the federal government.