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Crews cant stop sewage leak
Major construction may be needed, official says as city starts testing wells.
By Jennifer Barnett News-Leader
Millions of gallons of raw sewage continued to flow into South and Wilsons creeks Sunday as city crews worked to minimize a major leak at the Southwest Treatment Plant and health officials began testing nearby wells for contamination.
A sewer main going into the plant broke early Saturday. Crews on Sunday used rocks and concrete to fill up a hole in the ground that was allowing leakage to contaminate groundwater, the worst threat to nearby wells. Sewage continues to burst from a broken sewer pipe Sunday near the entrance of the Southwest Treatment Plant in Springfield. Steve J.P. Liang / News-Leader
But they couldnt stop the sewage from flowing into South Creek near where it meets Wilsons Creek.
It looks like its going to take a major construction project to repair the break, said Bob Schaefer, assistant director of Springfields Public Works Department.
That means getting an emergency contract with a large contractor who can start and finish the job as soon as possible, Schaefer said.
Work could begin today at the earliest, but would probably take one to two weeks to finish, he said. The project estimated to cost between $200,000 and $500,000 would involve replacing both the broken section of pipe and pipe that is likely now partly clogged with debris.
In the meantime, the city has placed two pumps along a ditch that is now carrying the leaking sewage into South Creek. The pumps are returning some of the sewage to the treatment plant, he said. The ditch normally carries stormwater into South Creek about 200 feet upstream from Wilsons Creek.
City crews Sunday were also trying to figure out how to use a new section of pipe as a kind of collar around the broken section. But even if that could be done, it wouldnt stop the leak completely, Schaefer said.
Shutting off the sewer main above the leak isnt a good option, either, he said. That would only cause an overflow farther up the line, which serves a large section of southwest Springfield.
The pipe that burst Saturday is 3 feet in diameter and about 9 years old, Schaefer said. It had deteriorated beyond what would have been expected for a pipe that age, he said.
Schaefer said he still doesnt expect a fish kill as a result of the leak. But that doesnt mean there wont be any problems.
Environmental officials have posted signs at public access points along Wilsons Creek and the James River warning people not to swim or wade in the water or eat fish from it, said Karen Potter, administrator of the Christian County Health Department. People living near those waterways who get their water from wells were warned to monitor their water for changes in odor or appearance.
Workers from the Springfield-Greene County Health Department spent Sunday going door-to-door, testing wells of anyone living within a quarter-mile of Wilsons Creek from its intersection with South Creek to the Christian County line. Until those test results are back probably this afternoon the health department is recommending those homeowners not drink their well water, said Harold Bengsch, the departments director.
Health officials are looking for any kind of organism from the coliform family, and would expect to find E. coli bacteria if a well has been contaminated by the sewage, Bengsch said.
If lab tests show an unusually high rate of contamination, the health department will consider expanding the test area, he said. Otherwise, the department probably will test the same wells again Wednesday. About 30 percent of the wells in Greene County, many of which were drilled before strict state regulations were enacted, test unsafe at any given time, Bengsch said. Older wells are more at risk for being contaminated by the sewage leak, he said.
Homeowners in Christian County should call the health department for information on having their wells tested, Potter said.
Neither Bengsch nor Schaefer said they knew whether the city of Springfield would be liable for any costs to homeowners because of the leak.
Were liable for whatever were liable for, Schaefer said. Right now were interested in getting this repaired and getting everyone back to normal.
Once the leak is repaired, cleaning up the streams will mean letting nature take its course, Schaefer said.
Theres nothing to do to change the stream at that point other than what happens naturally, he said. It usually is a fairly rapid change once you stop the overflow.
-- (Dee360Degree@aol.com), July 31, 2000