City says no threat from released water

ESCANABA — Escanaba residents are being assured there are no health concerns regarding the temporary discharge of partially-treated wastewater into Little Bay de Noc due to high water levels city-wide.

Because of large amounts of rain in the past two weeks causing high ground water levels, the city’s storm sewer and sanitary sewer systems have been overloaded, forcing the city to release an overflow of chemically-treated wastewater into Little Bay de Noc since last Sunday, explained Water/Wastewater Superintendent Jee Lampi on Friday.

About 300,000 gallons of partially-treated wastewater were discharged into the bay last Sunday, said Lampi. While the process has taken place daily since then, the amount being released has decreased to about 90,000 to 150,000 gallons a day, he estimated.

Wastewater plant employees are doing what they can to keep the sanitary sewer collection system from backing up into customer’s homes and businesses by discharging what’s called “primary effluent” into the lake, said Lampi.

“Without the by-pass, private property damage would’ve been unavoidable,” he said, explaining “primary effluent” as wastewater that has had 80 percent of solids removed and has been treated with chlorine to kill the majority of harmful bacteria known as pathogens.

“I don’t feel there are any health threats because we’re increasing our chlorine dosage in the treatment process,” said Lampi, also noting the chlorine is gone from the ­discharged wastewater before it gets to the lake, posing no health issues for human or aquatic life.

At the request of the city, the local health department tested the lake water at the city beach for E. coli bacteria on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday this past week with no health issues being reported, said Lampi.

The city continued to do the same testing on Friday and will also take lake water samples to test during the weekend, he said, adding the public will be immediately notified if there are any health concerns.

Lampi expects the partially-treated wastewater to continue to be discharged into the lake for the next few days due to more rain in the local forecast.

According to water plant records, slightly less than six and a half inches of rain fell in the city from June 11 to Thursday.

Because of the large amount of rain lately, public works crews have been busy dealing with standing water and clearing out storm sewer drains while the city has been treating more than twice the amount of sanitary water normally treated at the wastewater plant, said Lampi.

The wastewater plant typically treats about two million gallons of wastewater daily. From last Sunday to Thursday, an average of nearly five million gallons have been going through the system each day, stated Lampi.

Lampi attributes part of the overload due to rain water draining into the sanitary system from storm sewer runoff, contributing to the overload. He also suspects residents may be using sump pumps to remove water in basements into sanitary lines, also contributing to the system’s overload. Using sump pumps to transfer water into the city’s sanitary system is not allowed, he noted.

The city’s aging wastewater equipment is also to blame for the current problems, added Lampi, describing the infrastructure as “poor” due to old pipes — some more than 100 years old — which are deteriorating, cracking, and being damaged by tree roots.

The city has budgeted $670,000 to reline about 5,000 feet of sewer lines this summer as well as replace or repair plant equipment to increase its capacity, he said.

Lampi said Escanaba is not the only municipality which has been experiencing similar wastewater issues due to recent rainfall.

“It’s definitely a problem that has been happening throughout the Upper Peninsula as long as there’s high water,” he said.

Lampi also noted there are no threats to the city’s potable water supply, which is a system separate from the wastewater system.

For any questions or concerns, residents are asked to contact the Escanaba Wastewater Department at 786-1301.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net