Memphis will continue dumping millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Mississippi River until the Maynard Stiles waste water treatment plant is repaired, hopefully by the end of the week. City officials are blaming Friday’s pump failure on the high level of the Mississippi River, but could this have been prevented?
The City of Memphis entered into an agreement with the feds to upgrade and improve the entire sewer system and the city’s 2 wastewater treatment plants in 2012. One of the issues was discharging sewage into the Mississippi River.
Memphis environmentalist and Sierra Club member Scott Banbury isn’t surprised there is yet another problem with one of the city’s wastewater treatment plants.
“This is becoming a regular occurrence, discharging raw sewage,” said Banbury.
Memphis Public Works Director Robert Knecht says 12 hours before the pumps failed Friday, there had been trouble at the plant that workers were trying to repair.
“Electrical issues, they had some shorts, they had some breakers not resetting, they had some mechanical issues. They were fixing them, working, getting them back in service, and it started happening again. And ultimately, they just couldn’t stop the situation before it flooded,” said Knecht. He said the biggest problem is the Stiles plant is 40-years-old.
As the result of a 2012 lawsuit, the city agreed to a list of improvements that must be made to the sewer system and treatment plants over a 10-year period. The city is still working on that list.
“We haven’t significantly done much to these facilities. A few things here and there as part of the consent decree, but ultimately, we haven’t really haven’t done a modern upgrade to it, ” said Knecht.
Knecht says a $170 million modernization project of the Maxson treatment plant on the city’s south side is underway. He adds Memphis has reduced sanitary sewer overflows by 40% the past five years.
Those watching the situation say despite the city working on the upgrades, they wonder what might happen next.
“They are doing what they need to do under the consent decree, but maybe we want it to happen faster,” said Banbury.