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Wastewater Sludge Spills into Kiljordan Creek

Apr 4, 2016

A malfunction at the Macomb wastewater treatment plant led to a spill that might affect some homes with private water wells.

About 300 gallons of land application sludge spilled into the Kiljordan Creek Sunday night and into early Monday morning. The plant’s Michael Barr said a pipe clogged with debris, which forced sludge to spill over into the creek.  

“It wasn’t a fire hose type flow,” Barr said. “It was just a trickle going in.”

He said these types of clogs are common, there just wasn’t anyone working overnight to handle it. He said it was an unfortunate event.

Barr said the city is running tests to make sure the spill won’t harm aquatic life. But, he said the spill is not likely to impact the ecosystem too much because the river is the main storm drain for that part of town and has cattle lots all along it.  

“It’s unfortunate that we discharged what we did, but what we discharged is probably a safer substance than, if you get a pouring down rain, what drains off these cattle lots and straight into it,” Barr said.

That sludge that spilled into the river is normally applied to farm fields to add nitrogen.  “There’s still potential for bacteria, pathogenic bacteria, because you are dealing with a human waste byproduct there,” said Chris Adams of the McDonough County Health Department.

The "buffer zone" marked in orange runs for 16-miles along the Kiljordan creek
Credit McDOnough County Health Department

Adams said the health department recommends homeowners who live near the creek and are up to 16 -miles downstream from the plant test their private wells. The department is offering free, do-it-yourself testing kits.  

“I would recommend that if somebody is along the Kiljordan especially if they’re within the buffer zone get your well water tested and if there is a bacteria issue, disinfect the well and resample and take care of it.”

Adams said the department also has information about disinfecting wells that show signs of e-coli or coliform bacteria. The health department recommends testing wells at a minimum of once a year.

There are plans in place to add safety precautions to ensure a spill doesn’t happen again. Michael Barr said it’s an old plant that hasn’t been updated since the 1970s, but the city recently secured about $3 million in state grants to make improvements.

That money will cover the cost of adding in float devices to monitor water levels and if those levels reach a certain height, an alarm will notify someone of the problem.

Barr said that will cost a few thousand dollars and should be completed within the next few weeks or months. 

Barr said the water treatment plant normally discharges about 2 million gallons of treated water a day.