City to correct problems related to discharges

By ANTHONY WARREN,

Contractors managing the Savanna Street Wastewater Treatment Plant discharged some four billion gallons of untreated wastewater into the Pearl River between December and May.

However, Public Works Director Robert Miller said the firm likely didn’t have a choice.

Even so, the discharges are a violation of the federal Clean Water Act and the terms of the city’s sewer consent decree.

City officials say they are taking steps to ensure such discharges do not occur again.

Jackson has taken out a $30 million bond from the state revolving loan fund, of which around $27 million will be dedicated to making repairs at the South Jackson facility.

Later this month, public works is expected to open bids on the work.

The plant is managed by Veolia Water North America. The firm was brought on in October 2016 to oversee plant operations. Under the 10-year agreement, the Boston-based company just over $10.9 million a year for the service.

Between December 8, 2018 and May 22, 2019, Veolia discharged more than 4 billion gallons of untreated, partially treated or diluted wastewater into the Pearl, bypassing the plant and its on-site storage lagoons.

Miller said the problem was reported to the city, which Jackson then reported to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

On May 16, days before the discharge ended, MDEQ issued a water contact advisory for the Pearl. According to the release, the advisory was issued because of unrelated sewage discharges across the city.

The Veolia discharges continued for 195 days straight, with an average of more than 20 million gallons of untreated sewerage going into the Pearl each day. 

“It was caused by a combination of high stormwater levels and failed equipment at the plant,” he said.

Among equipment, several “clarifiers” need to be repaired. Clarifiers are devices that help remove solids from wastewater before the water is sent on to be disinfected.

The Savanna plant has five. The state revolving loan will be used, in part, to rehab three of them.

Complicating matters further, Jackson had one of the wettest years on record in 2018 with 2019 starting off just as wet.

For the first seven months of the year, between 35 and 40 inches of precipitation were reported in the metro area, according to the National Weather Service.

When rains infiltrate the city’s porous sewer system, which carries it to the Savanna plant for treatment, millions of extra gallons of water could go to the plant, depending on the amount of rain received.

Because of broken down equipment, the plant was unable to treat the increased flows, and waters had to be expelled into the Pearl, Miller explained.

With the year’s continuous heavy rains, the director believes the Savanna plant quickly ran out of room to store the waste in its storm cells. 

Savanna’s storm cells are essentially large sewer lagoons where wastewater can be stored during high flow times.

The idea is that the lagoons are emptied later and the contents are treated when flows return to normal.

The cells were cleaned out in 2014. At full capacity, the lagoons can store up to 150 million gallons.

Based on the more than 20 million gallons that was diverted to the Pearl River each day, the cells would have filled up in a little more than a week.

“Veolia said they took the only prudent course available to them, and I have no facts to dispute that,” Miller said.

Jackson entered into a sewer consent decree with EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice in 2012. Under terms of the agreement, the city must make hundreds of millions of dollars to its sewer system to bring it into compliance with federal water quality statutes.

The city is currently working to renegotiate terms of the decree.

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