E. coli threat puts Memphians in danger, costs marina money - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

E. coli threat puts Memphians in danger, costs marina money

(Source: WMC Action News 5) (Source: WMC Action News 5)

A broken sewer line could be putting Mid-Southerners at risk of E. coli and that risk is costing one local Marina thousands of dollars a day.

According to officials, a permanent fix for the sewage leak is expected to be completed in three to four months and will cost an estimated $8-$10 million dollars. No general funds will be used; all the money will come from sewer-related funds.

"Our priorities are to stop the spill and to keep the people safe," Mayor Jim Strickland said.

According to Strickland, the spill has impacted surface water, but has not contaminated any drinking water.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell said they have not received any reports of health related illnesses at this time from water contamination. He said the health department has been visiting with residents near the affected area regarding health issues, risks, and encouraging them to leave the area.

Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said the department has been providing support to the city and county in the form of assistance and manpower.

"Our role is to provide support to the City of Memphis," Haushalter said. 

She said the department has worked to help notify residents and provide education regarding the health risks of having contact with the water.

"People do not need to be in that water until further notice," Strickland said.

For Riverside Marina owner Larry Stanley, the spill could not have come at a worse time.

"We were expecting a good spring and summer and of course, this happens," Stanley said.

The marina relies on people housing, docking and launching their boats on McKellar Lake.

"If it wasn't for me promising to keep everyone away from the boat ramp, there wouldn't be no sense in being here," Stanley said.

City and state officials warned against coming in contact with the creek and lake water. They also said a bypass will be put in place to temporarily fix the leak.

Officials asked anyone who experiences any GI tract issues or illnesses and who has come in contact with the contaminated water to seek medical attention.

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC) issued a Water Contact Advisory after getting results from McKellar Lake and Cypress Creek.

Sewage has been pouring into McKellar Lake since storms broke a sewer line March 31.

Tests confirm an extremely high level of E. coli in all tested locations in the area. Results have E. coli levels up to 300 times what is normal for streams and 580 times what is normal for lakes.

"This is a very serious situation and any bodily contact to the water is dangerous,” Shari Meghreblian, TDEC Deputy Commissioner for the Bureau of Environment, said. “We have been working closely with the City of Memphis Public Works, Shelby County Health Department, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and many more to not only get the release re-routed and cleaned up, but to also inform the public that there is a major concern.”

TDEC said the sewage leak has already killed more than 10,000 fish, including 15 different species.

Earlier this year officials were made aware of erosion around the pipe, and plans were made to correct it. However, heavy rainfall in March caused the pipe to collapse.

"Those plugs will be in place and bypass operations will be underway so there won't be discharging waste into Cypress Creek," Robert Knecht with the City of Memphis said.

Although a fix is on the way; for Stanley and his seven workers, each day the water is deemed unsafe is thousands of dollars lost.

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