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Energy and Environment

KDHE: No Danger From Millions Of Gallons Of Sewage In River

KSWX_29, flickr Creative Commons

Millions of gallons of sewage that have spilled into the Kansas River at Topeka since spring are no cause for alarm, Kansas health officials said this week.

The issue started in April, when roughly 3 million gallons of raw sewage made it into the river after a power failure at a Topeka pump station, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported. On Tuesday, a sanitary sewer main leak caused 55,000 gallons of raw sewage to flow into the river at a Topeka wastewater treatment plant.

And earlier this month, a surge of heavy rainfall prompted the city to take advantage of a special permit from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to release partially treated sewage into the river.

KDHE spokeswoman Sara Belfry said Thursday that investigators tested bacterial levels in the river after each incident and found them to be normal.

"Downstream in Lawrence they have not seen any increase in bacterial levels," she said.

Topeka performs routine checks of all pump stations and associated equipment, according to Doug Gerber, interim director of the city's utilities. He noted that backup generators should kick in if a power failure occurs, and sewer mains are underground and under pressure, making it tough to check them when they're being used.

Topeka maintains more than 800 miles of sanitary sewer line, and with much of the infrastructure aging, "maintenance is an ongoing challenge," Gerber said.

Whenever KDHE allows the release of partially treated sewage, the agency completes an investigation to follow up on what happened and what the city did to make sure people were correctly notified, Belfry said.

After raw or partially treated sewage spills into the river, it's important to remember that it's a flowing body of water, she said.

"That sewage isn't staying stagnant in the same place," she said. "It is also diluted because of the amount of water that's in the river."