MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - A bold plan to pump sewage water into the Mississippi River is underway in Memphis. It's part of an effort to deal with a massive overflow near the Dewitt Spain Airport thanks to multiple failures at a treatment plant.
The water level is a mix of one part untreated waste and five parts river. It continues to rise--flowing up out of manholes.
"We do not have water on the runway, or at the hangers yet, but as you can see from some of the efforts around the airport, it is getting a little closer," Terry Blue, with Memphis Shelby County Airport Authority, said.
One pilot said the water levels have risen 3.6 feet in the past 24 hours and continues to rise as crews work non-stop to catch up--using a dozen pumps to dump the water directly into the Mississippi River.
The airport is open for the time being, and sandbags are in place for precaution.
"Around some critical vertical infrastructure, we have the utmost faith in the city and their efforts to hold back the water and the inflow. So we believe they will ultimately be successful, our efforts are just in case," Blue said.
City of Memphis said their waste treatment facility was built back in 1977 and is need of a major upgrade. This unprecedented situation was created with a huge surge from high river levels combined with electrical problems that caused the facility's pumps to fail.
"This represents the challenges that all of our sewer systems across the country face. I mean, we are in a similar situation with aging infrastructure, high capital costs, and high needs that have to be paid for," Memphis Public Works Director Robert Knecht said.
The plant was already due for upgrades and now that need is greatly increased.
"This is going to need some major investments to make sure that is has another 40 years of useful life," Knecht said.
Now this emergency is a race against the clock, with airport officials holding their breath.
"When the water is gone, we'll breath a sigh of relief. Until then, we're going to keep working until every last gallon is out of here," Blue said.
The city expects to receive a fine for dumping untreated waste water directly into the Mississippi River on top of an expected $10 to $20 million spent to get rid of the water and fix the issue.