Approximately 1.3 million gallons of untreated sewage were released into the Elkhart River Tuesday, July 1, by the Goshen Wastewater Treatment plant.
That’s according to Jim Kerezman, the plant’s superintendent. In a phone interview Friday morning, July 4, Kerezman said power outages from storms earlier this week prevented the plant from treating incoming sewage that was backing up. As a result, the plant was forced to release the untreated sewage into the river between 3 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Affected areas were Ox Bow County Park and any areas bordering the Elkhart River from Indiana Avenue downstream to C.R. 17, according to a press release.
Bacteria levels in the river, including E. coli, can rise for at least 72 hours following sewage discharge.
Indiana law requires communities with combined sewer overflows (CSOs) to offer public notice when CSOs are discharging.
Goshen residents are alerted to sewage overflows in the river by subscribing to an email notification alert on the City of Goshen’s website.
Notification signs have been posted at CSO outfall locations and at access points along the river, according to a press release.
The bacteria levels are likely back to normal, according to Kerezman. Still, Mayor Allan Kauffman said Friday that it’s probably best to avoid contact with the river at any point unless the weather has been clear for a long time.
"Certainly after a rain event or an overflow, we don't recommend people have full body contact or swim in the river for at least three days."
Up until Tuesday, the city had only discharged untreated sewage into the river once since 2011, Kauffman said. He said the plant is fed by two leads, with one serving as a backup for the other.
"Both safety leads were wiped out in this storm,“ Kauffman said. ”We had to discharge into the river – we had to do that. We don’t like to have to, but in an emergency situation we have to.“
Treated sewage is regularly released into the river, according to Kerezman.
Kauffman emphasized situations such as these have absolutely no effect on the area’s drinking water.
“[The] City of Goshen does not draw water from the river for potable water. We draw it from deep wells in to the Great Lakes Basin,” Kauffman wrote in an email sent to local reporters Friday afternoon.
In that email, Kauffman wrote that the City of Goshen “does not take lightly the release of sewage to the river.”
He also wrote that Goshen is “far ahead” of most cities in Indiana that face similar wastewater setups, and 85 million gallons of sewage have been prevented from flowing into the Elkhart River since the installation of six-million-gallon storage tanks in 2011.
“Until this emergency, we have had to release very little, even in the biggest rainfall events,” he wrote.
“Some say, why don't we have a generator? It would take a massive generator to run the sewage treatment plant. It would be backup to the backup, and almost never used. Utility customers would be paying for something that added almost no value,” Kauffman wrote.
This story was updated at 4:55 p.m. Friday, July 4, with additional information from Goshen Mayor Alan Kauffman.