JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – Nearly 45 million gallons of untreated wastewater was released into the environment in a four-month period due to Jackson’s sewer failures, according to the latest quarterly report the city submitted to the EPA.
The report covers the period from December 1 through March 21. Jackson must submit regular reports to the federal regulatory agency as part of its sewer consent decree.
The latest quarterly report was submitted on April 30 and covers sanitary sewer overflows, or SSOs, that occurred in late winter 2021 and early spring 2022.
During that time, 259 sewer overflows were reported in the capital city, which released more than 44.7 million gallons of sewer into the environment.
An estimated 33.9 million gallons went into waters classified as “Waters of the US” Under terms of its sewer decree, the city is fined for each SSO that reaches one of those waters.
Jackson entered into the decree in 2012 with the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Justice to bring its sewer into compliance with federal water quality laws.
According to the city’s annual report, which also was submitted on April 30, Jackson doesn’t have the funding or the manpower to address SSOs or other decree mandates.
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 during its public comment period on 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 temporary place signs in areas of overflows when they create a “significant health hazard or (when a) significant volume has reached waters of the US and/or state.”
The last public advisory was issued on September 15, 2021, when an SSO impacted a section of Ebuanks Creek stretching from I-55 to the Pearl River.
Since then, the city’s news release archive shows just one sewer-related notice was issued, one 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 put out.
“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.”
MDEQ is the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. The agency also monitors the city’s compliance with its consent decree.
Officials with the agency were not immediately available for comment.
According to its annual report, though, Jackson doesn’t have the ability to meet decree requirements due to a lack of funding and staffing.
As of April 30, the city told EPA it had just 16 sewer maintenance workers to address SSOs across Jackson, while 31 sewer maintenance positions remain unfilled.
Jackson also has equipment issues. According to the annual report, only two of the city’s four Jet Vactor trucks – the trucks used to clean grease and solids out of clogged lines – were down for repairs.
Of the 259 SSOs included in the April report, 182 were caused due to solids and grease clogging the lines.
The city blames many of these clogs on flushable wipes, as evidenced by the March 11 news release.
According to that release, disposable wipes are advertised as being flushable, but “can cause backups in the system and contribute to the buildup of foreign materials. In some cases, they can attach to buildups of grease in the system and create large blocks called ‘fatbergs.’”
Another 60 SSOs were the result of collapsed lines, while three were caused by sewer pump failures and 10 were the results of excessive flow.
142 of the overflows had not been resolved at the time the report was submitted. Some of those have released millions of gallons of waste into the environment, including more than 8.8 million that went into Hanging Moss Creek due to a collapsed line at 5346 Jamaica Dr.
“SSOs are the most debilitating thing when it comes to the quality of life,” Ward 1 Councilman Ashby Foote said. “We have to do all we can get these things fixed.”
Jackson is currently renegotiating the terms of its consent decree with the federal government.
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