Jackson released nearly 20M gallons of raw sewage into Town Creek in three-month timespan

Sewer Pump at Mill Street.
Sewer Pump at Mill Street.(Pearl Riverkeeper)
Published: Aug. 5, 2022 at 3:32 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - In three months, more than 19.7 million gallons of raw sewage was released into Town Creek thanks to a collapsed sewer line and broken bypass pump located at a nearby storm drain.

That information can be found in the city’s most recent report to the EPA.

Jackson submitted its quarterly report on July 30. The city must submit regular reports to the federal regulatory agency as part of its sewer consent decree. The latest report covers the period from April 1 to June 30, 2022.

Data shows that 235 sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) occurred during the three-month span, including 71 that impacted Waters of the United States.

The city faces a daily fine of $2,000 for each violation impacting Waters of the U.S. However, the EPA has yet to enforce those penalties.

Sanitary Sewer Overflows will result in a fine under Jackson's sewer consent decree.
Sanitary Sewer Overflows will result in a fine under Jackson's sewer consent decree.(WLBT)

Combined, the SSOs released at least 52.6 million gallons of untreated wastewater into the environment, including 49.8 million gallons into federally identified waters. The latter amount is enough to fill more than 75 Olympic-size swimming pools with raw sewage.

“I know people think I’m a broken record, but it’s way worse than it’s ever been,” said Abby Braman, with the environmental watchdog group Pearl Riverkeeper. “The last three months were worse than all of 2021.”

Braman says she is particularly concerned about the number of major SSOs that continue to go unresolved.

“Most of the spills that have released more than 1 million gallons are ongoing,” she said. “One site we went to look at was at Mill Street, where a sewer bypass pump is not in operation.”

The bypass pump is located at North Mill and Livingston Street. It went down on April 22, according to Jackson’s latest report.

Since then, the collapsed main and inoperable pump at North Mill and Livingston Street has led to 19.7 million gallons of waste being released at the site.

That untreated waste ended up in Town Creek and later flowed into the Pearl River.

Town Creek runs from north of Hawkins Field to the river. It crosses under West Woodrow Wilson Avenue and runs along Fortification until it turns south near Bailey Avenue. It continues to meander through downtown Jackson until it makes its way to the river just north of U.S. 80.

In an email to city leaders, Braman said the pump failure actually began in October 2019, and that during a recent visit she could see sewage running into a storm drain there.

“I reached out to EPA, MDEQ, the Jackson City Council, the Jackson City Attorney, the Jackson Public Works Department... So far, I haven’t heard a reply from anyone,” Braman said. “I don’t know what’s happening, but it’s not good.”

MDEQ is the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, which helps monitor the city’s compliance with its decree. No one from the agency was available for comment Friday afternoon.

More than half of the overflows, 136, were caused by grease or solid buildups in the line, while another 91 were caused by broken or collapsed pipes.

The worst SSOs are shown in the table below.

SSOs releasing 1 million gallons or moreGallons releasedCauseDate beganResolved or unresolved
N Mill St./Livingston St.7,488,000Collapsed pipeApril 22, 2022Unresolved
714 Eagle Ave.1,876,000Collapsed pipeApril 1, 2022Unresolved
1849 Parkridge Dr.1,080,000Collapsed pipeApril 1, 2022Unresolved
2445 Coronet Pl.2,664,000Collapsed pipeFeb. 16, 2022Unresolved
1849 Parkridge Dr.1,908,000Collapsed pipeMay 1, 2022Unresolved
N Mill/Livingston St.12,240,000Collapsed pipeMay 1, 2022Unresolved
1013 Trinity St.1,663,500Collapsed pipeMay 1, 2022Unresolved
400 Greymont Ave.4,032,000Collapsed pipeMarch 11, 2022Unresolved
Bailey Ave/Hume St.1,334,400Collapsed pipeMay 1, 2022Unresolved
1462 Country Club Dr.2,160,000Collapsed pipeJune 1, 2022Unresolved
1849 Meadowbrook Rd.1,521,000Collapsed pipeJune 1, 2022Unresolved
808 Primos Ave.9,072,000Collapsed pipeApril 29, 2022Unresolved

Braman is also concerned about SSOs caused by collapsed mains in the Eastover area. She said breaks at 1849 Parkridge Drive and 1840 Meadowbrook have released “35 million gallons of sewage in the last year into Eastover Creek.”

“Those spills caught my eye because they’re sending sewage into the Pearl River north of the intake for the J.H. Fewell [Water Treatment] Plant,” she said. “Most of the SSOs are entering the Pearl south of there.”

Braman was unsure how the spill would impact water operations or the ability to treat it.

Fewell is located in the waterworks curve south of Lakeland Drive. It produces between 15 million and 20 million gallons of drinking water a day.

Eastover Creek connects with the Pearl River about 3,500 feet from where the Fewell plant intake is located, she said.

A water expert who spoke to WLBT on the condition of anonymity said having higher levels of fecal matter in the source water means having to use more chemicals to treat it.

“You already have some runoff that comes into the Pearl, but having untreated wastewater - raw sewer - obviously it makes it more difficult to treat,” the expert said.

Jackson entered into a sewer consent decree with EPA and the U.S. Department of Justice in 2012.

Under the terms of the agreement, Jackson is required to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to bring its sewer system into compliance with federal water quality laws. At last estimate, the cash-strapped city needs around $960 million to make those upgrades.

Citing a shrinking population and declining revenues, Jackson is currently working with EPA to renegotiate decree terms. In December, a federal judge agreed to reopen the case, allowing negotiations to move forward.

Jackson has provided EPA with proposed language to modify the decree, as well as an updated long-term financial model. According to court records, that model is being used by MDEQ and EPA to determine the city’s ability to fund decree mandates.

Officials with Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba’s administration were not immediately available for comment.

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