Heavy rain in Decatur leads to 810,075 gallons of sewage overflow

Decatur Utilities says there is no impact on drinking water, but people are still concerned about the problem.

Posted: Dec 30, 2019 9:34 PM
Updated: Dec 30, 2019 10:40 PM

Heavy rains in December pushed more than three quarters of a million gallons of sewage out into Decatur streets.

With more rain coming this week, Decatur city officials say there is no quick fix to keeping it from happening again. 

Decatur Utilities says 810,075 gallons of untreated sewage water overflowed from manholes and drains due to heavy rain the weekend of Dec. 21st. They say there is no impact on drinking water, but people are still concerned about the problem. 

"I heard about it from a customer I was driving around this morning, and I was shocked about it and it really concerns me," Jallah Zaizay, a taxi driver in Decatur, said. 

Zaizay says this is a major health concern that needs to be addressed. 

"It's a health situation, it's a health hazard, that's how I feel about it," Zaizay said.

Decatur Utilities could not go into much detail due to a previous lawsuit from the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. 

Decatur City Council President Paige Bibbee explained what causes this problem.

"Number one is the topography of the city, we are geographically in a bowl, we are bound up against a river, once it gets full the water has nowhere to go. Unfortunately, also, Decatur Utilities has a good handle on it, but our pipes are old," Bibbee said.

Bibbee says old clay-like pipes can be found throughout older buildings and locations in the city, and like most things, they break over time.

Decatur Utilities says they have been attacking the problem for years now. Bibbee says this won't get fixed overnight.

"[There is] 300 miles of it, you can't just fix that automatically, so it's going to continue to be an issue before it all gets rehabbed, which is going to take a while," Bibbee said.

According to Decatur's 2020 budget, Decatur Utilities will spend $2.5 million dollars this year on replacing old pipes.

Zaizay says they must fix this, so that no sewage contaminates the city.

"Let them do everything they can to make sure they can correct the situation," he said.

WAAY31 reached out to Mayor Tab Bowling about the issue, he did not have a comment. 

Decatur Utilities released this statement:

The most recent SSO was caused by heavy rainfall. Please reference the statement below provided previously to another media outlet for additional background on SSOs and DU’s aggressive efforts to address them.

Decatur Utilities would like to provide you with the following informational summary regarding our aggressive strategy over the last ten (10) years to remedy sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs).

First, it is important to define an SSO. Several things, some of which are beyond DU’s control, can cause an SSO. Inflow, infiltration, FOG (fats, oils, and grease), root intrusion, unforeseen mechanical failures, and other pipe defects can contribute to SSO’s. Inflow and infiltration, as it is known in the wastewater industry, is the result of groundwater and/or storm water runoff entering the sanitary sewer collection system by way of cracks, holes, loose joints, broken pipe, leaking manholes or other pipe defects due to system age. This is especially prevalent in older clay pipe that was installed in years past. Ultimately, an SSO is created when the capacity of the sanitary sewer pipe is exceeded due to one or more of the reasons identified above. Typically, most SSO’s occur during times of year when the ground is highly saturated with rainfall and/or during heavy storm events.

DU has a regulatory requirement to report all SSO’s to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) and must also notify the public of the SSO. ADEM’s eSSO website identifies all reported SSO’s statewide.

In 2008, DU began identifying areas within the sanitary sewer collection system with the highest frequency of SSOs and received American Resource Recovery Act (ARRA) monies to begin replacing aging infrastructure in those areas. The initial work included the replacement of the sanitary sewer pump station LS10 located along Highway 31 South, and the rehabilitation of sanitary sewer collection system piping and manholes with identified defects throughout the city. This work was completed in 2012.

In February 2013, DU developed and presented a 10-year Wastewater System Improvement Plan (“Plan”) to ADEM aimed at improving DU’s aging wastewater utility infrastructure and eliminating SSOs. The first five years of the plan (2014-2018) focused on infrastructure improvements in areas susceptible to SSOs. The second five-year period (2019-2023) was focused on improvements to the wastewater collection system. DU’s commitment and implementation of the Plan resulted in the replacement of six (6) sanitary sewer lifts stations: LS2 Riverview, LS4 Country Club Road, LS8 Stratford Road, LS12 Mallard Fox, LS13 Flint North, and LS14 Flint South. In addition to these pump station replacements, major collection system improvements were made in Basin 2, Basin 4, Basin 8, and Basin 6 (Wimberly Drive and the Beltline). There was also significant pipe and manhole rehabilitation/replacement completed in other areas within the city during this timeframe.

In May 2019, DU provided an update to ADEM on the successful implementation of the Plan and our continued commitment to eliminate SSOs within our sanitary sewer collection system.

DU disagrees with any assertion that it is not aggressively addressing SSOs. DU would like for our customers to know that we take any SSO very seriously, and as such, has invested over $60 million dollars within the past ten (10) years to improve wastewater system infrastructure and we remain fully committed to continued improvements of the wastewater collection system in an effort to reduce/eliminate future SSOs, while remaining mindful of our customers and sewer rates.

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