Staff photo by Dan Henry/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Park Ranger Deryl Nelson, from left, and Josh Learner, interim general manager for the Delta Queen riverboat, speak to a Chattanooga Public Works employee, who wished to remain unidentified, at Coolidge Park, where raw sewage was emerging from a manhole and running into the Tennessee River on Tuesday.
Crews worked all night to try and fix an electrical problem that shut down pumps at the Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plant and sent close to 100 million gallons of untreated wastewater into the Tennessee River on Tuesday, city officials said.
Jerry Stewart, director of the city's Waste Resources Division, said EPB crews could have the problem solved as early as this morning, but he added that it could be several days before it's fixed.
Mr. Stewart said workers on Tuesday heard a loud explosion after a fuse on one of the plant's 15,000-volt power poles shorted out. The power outage stopped the plant's eight sewage pumps, causing massive overflows in three downtown locations, he said.
Kim Dalton, spokeswoman for Tennessee-American Water Co. in Chattanooga, said water officials have been told the sewage overflows are downstream of the city's drinking water intakes, but water company officials still will take precautions.
"We are concerned," she said, "and we are monitoring."
If additional pollutants are found in raw water samples, treatment can be increased to ensure the drinking water's safety, she said.
Widespread rains from Sunday made the problem easier to manage, according to officials.
Moccasin Bend can treat up to 140 million gallons of wastewater per day, but after the rain, officials on Monday cranked up an auxiliary system that can handle up to 80 million gallons.
Mr. Stewart said rainwater also probably mitigated the expected effects of organic matter flowing into the river all day.
"That wastewater's probably diluted," he said. "The other thing is the river is running very high right now. There's never a good time for something like this to happen, but this is the best because there's a lot of stormwater coming down with it."
Dr. Richard Urban, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's Chattanooga field office water pollution control manager, said city officials notified state regulators early Tuesday about the problem and will not face any citations.
"No one understands what happened (to the plant's power system)," Dr. Urban said. "But it has resulted in them not being able to move the waste being produced into the plant."
* Martin Luther King Boulevard and Riverfront Parkway
* Hamm Road at Moccasin Bend
* Underneath the Market Street Bridge at Coolidge Park
Source: City of Chattanooga
Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...