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Months after dire warnings, Flint spills 2 million gallons of raw sewage into river

The city of Flint, Michigan dumped approximately 2 million gallons of untreated sewage into the Flint River three weeks ago, just months after officials warned wastewater infrastructure was fast approaching a “critical point.”

A partial report filed by the city with Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE, the state Department of Environment), on August 20, says a “flash flood event” overflowed primary settling tanks at the city’s wastewater treatment plant on Beecher Road. The flooding sent raw waste onto the ground and into a storm sewer drain that discharges directly to the river.

Although the city announced the spill, it did not disclose the volume of the discharge until filing the partial report with EGLE. The city not indicated what actions it took to reduce impact from the discharge or what plans is has to prevent a similar spill from happening in the future.

Flint’s wastewater treatment plant system includes ten outdoor settling tanks similar to massive swimming pools. The tanks, which hold millions of gallons of sewage, are used to remove solid material from wastewater before it is moved to a clarifying tank for further treatment before finally being discharged to the river.

Last month’s spill follows the City Council’s approval of nearly $1 million in contracts with companies to help design upgrades to sewage treatment infrastructure. Officials had warned that the existing system was at risk of “catastrophic failure.”

The city is seeking a $34 million revolving loan to fund the state sewer improvements on its wish list.

Flint Department of Public Works Director Rob Bincsik said at the time:

“We’re going to get to a point where we can’t treat our wastewater and sewage anymore. We won’t have to talk about drinking water anymore, because we’ll talk about nothing but the raw sewage that gets discharged into the Flint River.”

The city treats about 50 million gallons of wastewater daily.

MLive-The Flint Journal could not immediately reach a Flint spokeswoman for additional comment on sewage spill. On Flint’s website, officials say they can temporarily hold about 20 million gallons of the excess water in a large storage basin in cases of heavy rain. The website says:

Once the tank is full, the excess flows are typically discharged to the river but only after water has been allowed to settle and and has been “disinfected with a bleach solution.”

The city’s report to the state does not mention the retention basin and says Sunday’s release was “raw sewage.”

The city sought a waiver from the Genesee County Health Department early this year. The waiver requested that it be allowed to skip testing river water for bacteria after sewage spills in cases in which the discharge comes from its retention basin.

Robert Case, Flint’s water pollution control division manager, said in an email to MLive-The Flint Journal in June, (about a month after the waiver request was denied):

“(Sewage discharges are) actually ‘cleaner’ than the river water, so it’s impact on the river is positive, if anything,”