Weeks after the Pearl River Flood inundated the Northside, city and state leaders were still determining how the disaster impacted Jackson’s sewer system.
Last week, damage assessments of the sewer system were under way.
In all, 130,000 miles of city sewer lines were submerged during the mid-February event, including the West Bank Interceptor, a major sewer transmission main that serves much of the Northside.
As a result of the flooding, an additional 553 million gallons of water infiltrated the sewer system, all of which had to be bypassed around the Savanna plant and released into the Pearl River only partially treated.
Public Works Director Robert Miller said that even partially treated, any wastewater bypassed with the floodwaters would be so diluted that it “meets nearly all regulatory requirements.”
He said it was too early to tell exactly what damage the flood caused and said damage assessments were under way.
Among assessments, crews with the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) were conducting aerial inspections of the West Bank Interceptor.
The line runs along the Pearl River’s west bank. It was submerged for days in mid-February, as the river rose nearly more than nine feet above flood stage.
City officials did expect damage to that line, as well as damage to the other aging sewer mains affected by the flooding.
Miller believes much of the additional inflows occurred at the interceptor, rather than at the residential sewer lines that were inundated.
“Infiltration and inflow occurs whenever there is a failure in the structural integrity of the collection system pipes, pump stations or manhole covers,” he said.
City leaders have spent millions to repair the interceptor over the years, but the line still had numerous porous areas, which likely allowed water from the river to infiltrate.
Much of the line from Savanna Street to Meadowbrook Road had been rehabbed. However, the interceptor still had not been repaired between Meadowbrook and Hanging Moss Creek.
Not only was water bypassed at the Savanna plant, sewer also backed up at several spots throughout the city, including at the Mississippi State Fairgrounds, in front of the Entergy building downtown and near the Country Club of Jackson.
Those backups, or sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs), have been a major problem for the city in recent years and were a major reason behind the city being forced to under a consent decree.
In 2013, Jackson entered into a decree with the U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), agreeing to make some $400 million in upgrades to it sewer system to bring it into compliance with federal water quality laws.
Since then, costs to repair the sewer system have risen, raising total costs for the decree to nearly $950 million.
In addition to those repairs, the city is also fined for each SSO that reaches a body of water defined as part of the “waters of the United States.”
As of March 1, the city is fined $1,000 per pay per incident. Prior to that, Jackson was fined $500 per day per incident, according to decree terms.
It was unclear whether SSOs related to the flood had reached the waters of the U.S.
To date, the city has racked up more than half a million dollars in fines. However, the justice department has deferred payment as long as Jackson makes progress on consent decree requirements.
However, with fewer collections in the water and sewer billing department, work on the decree in recent months has slowed.
Jackson has had to turn to the one-percent commission to help fund program management and emergency main breaks.
In October, the commission awarded the city $1.4 million in infrastructure tax dollars to fund program management through April. Decree work is managed by the Kansas City-based firm Burns & McDonnell.
Locally, the firm is supported by Waggoner Engineering and AJA Consultants.
Meanwhile, the city is currently in talks with EPA and DOJ to renegotiate terms of the decree.
Under the decree, Jackson has 17.5 years to make some $945 million in sewer upgrades. To help cover costs, Jackson raised its water and sewer rates in 2013. As consent decree costs have risen, the costs residents will have to pay to cover repairs have also gone up.
Based on current estimates, the decree places an extra $5,660 burden on each of Jackson’s 166,965 residents. Over a 17.5-year period, that burden would cost each person in the city an additional $323.
The city will likely have to recoup that amount through another increase in water and sewer rates.
However, thanks to new guidelines introduced by former President Barack Obama, EPA is now able to amend decree requirements so they will have less of an impact on poor and minority communities.
Lumumba officials announced that it would begin talks with EPA in 2018 and began talks with the firm the following year.
It was unclear how the flood would impact those negotiations.