Experts say sewage spill won’t impact drinking water

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - Crews have made some progress fixing the pumps at the sewage treatment plant north of Downtown Memphis.

The city has been dumping millions of gallons of untreated wastewater into the Mississippi River since Friday.

But does all of that contamination impact the city's drinking water?

"The Mississippi is an amazing river," lifelong Memphian John Baggett said.

Baggett is in awe of Old Muddy but is also worried raw sewage pumping into it from the city's flooded waste treatment plant could muddy Memphis' drinking water.

"Yeah, it concerns me because we've always had the best water in the world," Baggett said.

"The Mississippi River is the drainage for one-third of the United States of America," water expert Brian Waldron said. "So, everything goes into it."

Waldron is Director of the Center for Applied Earth Science and Engineering Research at the University of Memphis. He said the Mississippi is already full of contaminants, fertilizer, chemicals, industrial waste, and raw sewage

The Memphis spill, he said, is a tiny part of a giant fast-moving river.

"You're looking at 50-75 million gallons of waste going into the river, where you have 300 billion going by," Waldron said. "It's kind of what you might consider a drop in the bucket."

Memphis is the only major city along the Mississippi that doesn't get its water from the river. Instead, it taps into an underground aquifer.

Waldron said the biggest threat to that isn't toxins from the Mississippi; it's inland waste from old companies back in the 1940's and 50's that's now seeping deep into the ground.

"Where the water should be 2-3000 years old, we're finding water as young as 13 years old in our drinking water supply," Waldron said. "[That tells us] that there's a hole nearby and water is leaking in of poor quality."

MLGW tests the water daily and Waldron said the results are very high-quality drinking water.

But looking out at the river and thinking about the vulnerable aquifer, Baggett still has water worries.

"We've got something great here, and we need to appreciate it and take care of it," Baggett said.

The Mississippi River is finally dropping and a backup motor that was installed at the sewage plant should be fully operational by Friday.

The cost of repair is $5 million, but the cost of the fine from the state for the leak is still unknown.

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