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10 municipalities plus MMSD report sewer overflows

July 23, 2010

Ten municipalities in Milwaukee, Waukesha and Ozaukee counties, in addition to the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, have reported separate sanitary sewer overflows of untreated wastewater to local waterways after Thursday's intense rains, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.

The Milwaukee County communities reporting overflows Thursday include Brown Deer, Fox Point, Milwaukee, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay. Mequon was the only community in Ozaukee County to report an overflow as of Friday.

Waukesha County communities with overflow problems Thursday include Menomonee Falls, Muskego, Brookfield and the Lake Pewaukee Sanitary District, the DNR said in a water systems report Friday.

The metropolitan sewerage district's deep tunnels remained nearly full Friday afternoon so any of the district's regional sanitary sewers with high flows were continuing to spill untreated wastewater into local creeks, rivers and Lake Michigan for a second consecutive evening, district officials said. Combined sanitary and storm sewers in central Milwaukee and eastern Shorewood also were continuing to spill some of their volume as flows remained high Friday.

The mix of sewage and wastewater in the tunnels was being pumped out as quickly as possible and the district's two sewage treatment plants were operating at capacity Friday afternoon, MMSD Executive Director Kevin Shafer said Friday.

Shafer took advantage of a slight drop in tunnel volumes that morning to help relieve overburdened municipal sewers in an area along the Milwaukee River south of W. Hampton Ave. that received more than 7 inches of rain. He ordered the re-opening of a gate between the tunnels and a district drop shaft serving portions of Milwaukee's north side, Glendale, Shorewood and Whitefish Bay.

But there is no more storage space available in the main deep tunnels or the northwest side tunnel, and with two or more inches of rain forecast overnight into Saturday morning, it is not likely the district would be able to open the tunnels to accept flows from across the metropolitan area, Shafer said. The next rain storm likely will force the district to close the one open gate on the north side, he said.

Overflows of untreated wastewater to the streams and lake reduce risk of backups of water and sewage into basements, district officials said. In an overflow, most of the wastewater in the sewers continues to flow to the district's sewage treatment plants.

A second straight day of overflows is not uncommon. Untreated wastewater flowed out of the combined sewers for nine consecutive days in June 2008 - likely the longest stretch since the tunnels opened in 1994 - while the district's separate sanitary sewers spilled into waterways for three of those days.

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