A manhole cover on the Brush Creek Sewer District line that runs through Shaw Nature Reserve was blown out recently, causing raw sewage to pour onto the ground and flowing into nearby Brush Creek.
Nature Reserve employees discovered the overflow at about 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10.
The following morning, John Behrer, Nature Reserve manager, contacted the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), as well as Water District No. 3, which manages the Brush Creek Sewer District, and the city of Pacific.
Behrer noted that the overflow occurred very close to Brush Creek and the effluent was flowing into the creek, which runs through Pacific city parks.
Dan Rahn, Pacific city engineer, and Robert Brueggemann, Pacific water and sewer commissioner, went to the site to help locate the blockage. Duane Sell, DNR, also was at the site.
“The manhole cover was completely blown off and sewage was gushing up pretty good,” City Administrator Harold Selby said.
Glenn Beffa, Shaw Nature Reserve, walked with DNR officials and Brush Creek Sewer District repairmen to try to locate the blockage.
“They had to walk through some pretty rough brush,” Behrer said.
Mike Dougherty, regional manager with Alliance Water, the firm that manages Brush Creek Sewer District said he had crews on the site shortly after learning of the overflow.
“We were able to locate a blockage where the line goes under the railroad tracks near Old Gray Summit Road,” Dougherty said. “We had it opened by 2:30 p.m.”
Justin Narup, Alliance Water Resources, reported that workers removed a sewer line cap from the sewer line. Narup said the cap was a bit difficult to remove, but working as a team and using the right tools, the crew got the cap out of the sewer line without digging the sewer line up which was important because of the close proximity of the railroad tracks.
“The sewer district jumped on the problem pretty quickly, but we’re not certain this is the end of any spillage,” Behrer said. “The event seemed to be related to the heavy rains we experienced Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. We had 1.7 inches of rain, which is a pretty good rain.”
The sewer district lines drain into the city of Pacific sewage lagoon, which treats the effluent before it is discharged into the Meramec River.
“We weren’t concerned about sewage spilling onto our property, but we were concerned that it was flowing into Brush Creek.” Behrer said. “These are gravity flow lines and it makes sense to place them along the creek, but when there is a spill there’s the danger of polluting the creek.”
One thing that softened the pollution concern was that the incident occurred at a time of year when there is no recreation on the creek and when the growth of bacteria is slowed by the cold.
“These streams replenish themselves pretty quickly,” Behrer said. “A couple of good rains should clean out the pollution.”
Selby said infiltration of the Brush Creek lines following each rain causes the district to exceed the 200,000 gallons a day it is allowed to send.
“We have a contract that allows the sewer district to discharge no more than 200,000 gallons a day into out treatment plant,” he said. “The average is 140,000 to 160,000 gallons a day, so they stay under the limit but after a good rain they’re exceeding the limit.”
A recent reading showed the sewer district sending 400,000 gallons in one day, which is a concern.
“The lagoon has a capacity to treat 2 million gallons of sewage a day,” Selby said. “The city is discharging 1 million gallons a day so we have room for growth. But with stormwater infiltration we can get as much as the whole city produces in one day.”
Selby also noted that polluting Brush Creek was a concern to the city.
“We’re in the process of trying to develop a trail system through the city and one possible location is along Brush Creek,” Selby said. “It’s in everyone’s interest to keep the creek water pristine.”
Selby, who is a member of the Nature Reserve and who frequently runs there, said he had learned of a program where visitors walk the shore line of the creek within the nature reserve.
“Every spring and summer these groups come out and walk along Brush Creek to identify every plant, animal and aquatic life along the creek,” Selby said. “It’s a healthy creek that adds to the life in our parks.”
Timely reporting and quick response by Water District No. 3 helped to minimize the situation, Behrer said. Inspections on Friday showed the manhole cover back in place with no seepage, but it was not certain that the problem was completely solved.
The incident seemed to be rain related so the nature reserve is going to start a monitoring program to try to prevent any pollution going into the creek from sewer lines that run through the nature reserve in the future.
“After every rain we’ll check those manhole covers to make sure there is no leakage,” Behrer said. “We’re particularly concerned about the manholes in the lower area through the bean fields. They are low and close to the creek.”