JACKSON, Mississippi (WLBT) — Nearly 45 million gallons of untreated sewage were released into the environment over a four-month period due to Jackson’s sewer outages, according to the city’s most recent quarterly report to the EPA.
The report covers the period from December 1st to March 21st. Jackson is required to submit regular reports to the federal regulator as part of his sewer permit regulation.
The most recent quarterly report was filed on April 30 and covers sewer overflows, or SSOs, that occurred in late winter 2021 and early spring 2022.
During that time, 259 sewer spills were reported in the capital, releasing more than 44.7 million gallons of sewage into the environment.
An estimated 33.9 million gallons entered waters classified as “United States waters.” Under the terms of its sewage ordinance, the city will be fined for each SSO that reaches any of these bodies of water.
Jackson signed the executive order with the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Justice in 2012 to bring its sewer system into compliance with federal water quality laws.
According to the city’s annual report, also filed April 30, Jackson does not have the funding or manpower to address SSOs or other enactment assignments.
Abby Braman of Pearl Riverkeeper, a local environmental monitoring group, estimated that more than 52 million gallons of wastewater was released into the environment in the first quarter of 2022.
“That’s enough to fill 100 Olympic pools with raw sewage,” she told the city council during its public statement on Tuesday. “That’s more wastewater than the total released in 2018 and 2019 combined.”
She urged Jackson to prioritize water and sanitation funding to address those concerns.
Braman also held the city accountable for failing to notify the public of major oil spills.
Under the city’s Sewer Overflow Response Plan, also passed with its decree, the city must issue a press release and post temporary signs in areas of spills if they pose a “significant health hazard or (when) a significant volume of water has reached the.” United States and/or the State.”
The last public advisory was issued on September 15, 2021 when an SSO impacted a section of Ebuanks Creek that stretches from I-55 to the Pearl River.
Since then, the city’s press release archive shows that only one channel-related notice has been issued, one on March 11 urging people not to flush disposable wipes down the toilet.
By Braman’s count, more than a dozen other public notices should have been issued.
“I think I counted 14 that were over 1 million gallons. I don’t know what they consider a significant volume. I went to the EPA and MDEQ to change the wording and asked them to specify a specific volume that requires notification.”
MDEQ is the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. The agency also oversees the city’s compliance with the consent decree.
Agency officials were not immediately available for comment.
However, according to his annual report, Jackson is unable to comply with the decree’s requirements due to a lack of funds and staff.
On April 30, the city told EPA that it had only 16 sewer maintenance workers to address SSOs throughout Jackson, while 31 sewer maintenance positions remain vacant.
Jackson also has equipment problems. According to the annual report, only two of the city’s four Jet Vactor trucks — the trucks used to remove grease and solids from clogged lines — were down for repairs.
Of the 259 SSOs included in the April report, 182 were caused by solids and grease clogging the lines.
The city blames flushable wipers for many of these clogs, according to the March 11 news release.
According to this press release, single-use wipes are advertised as flushable, but “can cause system backlogs and contribute to foreign material build-up. In some cases, they can attach themselves to accumulations of fat in the system and create large blockages known as ‘fat hills’.”
Another 60 SSOs were the result of collapsed lines, while three were caused by sewage pump failure and 10 by excessive flow.
142 of the spills were unresolved at the time the report was submitted. Some of them have released millions of gallons of waste into the environment, including more than 8.8 million lost due to a collapsed line at 5346 Jamaica Dr.
“SSOs are the most debilitating thing when it comes to quality of life,” said Ashby Foote, Councilor of Ward 1. “We have to do whatever it takes to fix these things.”
Jackson is currently renegotiating the terms of his consent decree with the federal government.
Want more WLBT news in your inbox? Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.
Copyright 2022 WLBT. All rights reserved.