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Major sewage spill may have polluted creek for months

by Joe Arnold


Posted on June 5, 2012 at 5:08 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 15 at 1:11 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- The Metropolitan Sewer District stopped a major sewage spill in Little Goose Creek on Tuesday afternoon, yet the agency does not know how long a sewer line obstruction has been diverting 15,000 gallons of waste water per day into the creek.

"This is a sanitary sewer, it's overflowing," said MSD's Brian Bingham at the site of the overflowing sewer cap off US-42 near I-71.  "It looks like it's been overflowing for a while."

Bingham said rainwater has helped dilute the pollutants. He called the dry weather spill unusual and of the "highest priority" to MSD which is under an EPA consent decree to stem overflows triggered by storm water overwhelming the system.

The agency said its top concern is to prevent people from coming into contact with the raw sewage, especially on a day with favorable weather that increases the likelihood of children playing in the water.

Doug Ware of Louisville said he first discovered the spill while on a hike in November and reported it to MSD.

"They told me they were going to come out a few times, and they've never been out here," Ware said.

MSD said it can't find any record of Ware contacting them.  As soon as WHAS11 called, MSD immediately showed up, but couldn't find the spill until a reporter led them to it.  The sewer cap is located in the middle of the creek, a design MSD inherited but would not build today.

"It's obviously right out in the open once you get here, but it's really hard to trudge in here," Bingham said.

"I could smell it from up in the woods and I walked down here and it's just disgusting," Ware said.

Ware pointed to toilet paper and human feces in the creek, a distinguishable cloudy white trail from the sewer cap for about thirty yards downstream.

"It's like a slimy slick going down the creek," Ware said.

The 180 pound manhole cover is missing, perhaps forced off by the pressure of the sewer backup or recent heavy rains.

Bingham estimates the spill has been dumping 15,000 gallons of waste water into the creek per day, yet said it was nearly impossible to determine if the spill has been active for days, weeks or months.

If Ware's memory is correct, six months of a spill would equal more than two and a half million gallons of waste water in the creek since November.

"As remote as it is, I guess that's possible," Bingham said of Ware's claim.  "And I don't want to say that he is incorrect.  We always send a crew out the day that we get a call in for (sewer backups).

Another sewer cap is located on the creek bed about fifty yards upstream.  The sewage overflow is not visible from that location.

A hike through the woods finds Little Goose Creek flowing over rocks, dragonflies and wildflowers, and a newborn fawn waiting for its mother.  Doug Ware's hike found sewage.

"It's like someone's septic tank running over," he said.

"It sounds like something slipped through the cracks here," Bingham said. "And we'll try to and we'll go back and we'll try to look at why or how that might have happened."

MSD faces a $500 fine.  The agency says it is reporting the spill to federal authorities and will post signs about health dangers for the next 72 hours.

After crews removed an eight inch rock and a gallon jug from the sewer line, the spill has now been fixed.