- The sewage is not processed as it is collected from toilets and drains
- river water is sucked up and treated to become drinking water.
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted a six-month variance to allow the city to dump sewage into the river
MARK BALLARD, firstname.lastname@example.org Capitol news bureau
New Orleans is dumping 26.1 million gallons of raw sewage into the Mississippi River every day, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
The sewage is not processed as it is collected from toilets and drains. But it is diluted with water before flowing into the river, DEQ Secretary Mike McDaniel said. His staff is monitoring the Mississippi River water and testing the intake valves at Belle Chasse, where river water is sucked up and treated to become drinking water. McDaniel said no dangerous levels of toxins have been found.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency granted a six-month variance to allow the city to dump sewage into the river because Hurricane Katrina knocked out the sewer system. "We are not able to treat sewage. Our treatment plant was decimated," New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin said. But as early as next week, he said, two motors could be repaired that would allow for at least some treatment of the sewage. The motors that feed the sewage into the water-treatment plant were flooded with 12 feet of water.
The Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans announced Friday that the motors could be repaired as early as next week. Though much of the treatment plant is still inoperable, the hope is that initial processing, such as emulsifying and diluting solids, could be done before the waste is dumped into the river.
The city's sanitary sewer system consists of 1,450 miles pipes ranging in size from 8 inches to 7 feet in diameter. Sewage is lifted and moved by 82 pumping stations throughout the city.
Sewage Pumping Station A is collecting discharge from three smaller stations that gather effluvium from the city's Central Business District, the French Quarter and Uptown neighborhoods. Usually Station A feeds sewage collected from the city into a treatment plant. For the past week, it has been moving raw, unprocessed waste directly into the river near the French Quarter.
Harold Leggett, DEQ's assistant secretary for environmental compliance, said the six other treatment facilities were flooded and require at least four months to repair motors and electrical systems, he said.
"I think probably six months is a more accurate estimate," Leggett said.
About 60,000 people have returned to the Uptown area alone, said state Sen. Derrick Shepherd, D-Marrero, who questioned McDaniel at a legislative committee hearing on environmental issues raised by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The units that serve the neighborhoods of Gentilly, Lakeview and New Orleans East are not repaired and cannot be linked to the A pumping station. No sewer service is available for those parts of the city, so residents cannot flush toilets there.