Series of accidents caused sewage
Duluth News Tribune
Western Lake Superior Sanitary District administrators
Monday night laid out for their board members why two
recent massive sewage overflows occurred, then discussed
new plans to prevent the overflows from happening again.
The overflows were part of a series of six apparently
unrelated mishaps and electrical, equipment and design
failures that have sent more than 6.5 million of gallons
of untreated sewage into the local environment since July
"We've had a number of communications from people
who are very angry with us," said WLSSD executive
director Kurt Soderberg, who has called the string of
accidents unprecedented and embarrassing.
Soderberg said WLSSD is now conducting numerous system
upgrades and comprehensive reviews of current designs,
maintenance and operations. It also expects to make long-term
While the sanitary district hopes and plans for the overflows
never to happen again, in reality, Soderberg warned that
problems will always occur despite WLSSD's best efforts.
Monday's meeting at the WLSSD plant focused an internal
review of a 564,000-gallon overflow on July 7 from a manhole
outside the main sewage treatment plant on Courtland Street
in Duluth, and the 1.1 million gallons that overflowed
the next day in Scanlon.
According to the review, the July 7 overflow occurred
when a rainstorm dumped between 1.2 and 3.7 inches of
water into the system. A pump designed to help manage
high-flow situations failed because a subcontractor had
improperly installed its controls.
The review also said the July 8 incident was triggered
by an unconfirmed electrical anomaly from Minnesota Power.
Alarms didn't go off when the event sent controls to a
backup system, then ventilation failed and it overheated
and shut down.
WLSSD operation services manager Steve Johnsen said proud
employees have been at the "anguishing task"
of identifying the source of the problems, then working
around the clock to fix them.
"It wasn't simply something went out and whose fault
is it," Johnsen said.