GOSHEN — The release of more than a million gallons of wastewater into the Elkhart River caused an uproar in parts of the community, but Goshen’s retention system helped avoid a larger mess.
The storms that swept through Elkhart County on July 1 in the early morning caused a power outage at the Goshen wastewater treatment plant.
After 12 hours without power, the plant had to release 1.3 million gallons of the untreated sewage water accumulated onto the Elkhart River.
Residents in the areas of Ox Bow County Park and any areas bordering the Elkhart River from Indiana Avenue downstream to C.R. 17 were cautioned to stay out of the river because of the release of wastewater.
Once power was restored after eight hours, Goshen’s wastewater facility was up and running within less than an hour-and-a-half, said Jim Kerezman, the Goshen plant’s superintendent.
Anytime a community releases untreated sewage water into a river in Indiana, the community is required to notify the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the community.
IDEM issues permits to cities that have combined sewer overflow (CSO) systems in accordance to the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. They also make sure that cities with CSOs are following the rules. Any violation could result in legal action.
Dan Goldblatt, public information officer for IDEM, said inspectors on site estimated the amount of untreated sewage water dumped into the river was closer to 1.5 million gallons.
“There are other communities where rain automatically triggers release,” Goldblatt said. “This was not a normal CSO release. This was a mechanical breakdown.”
Goldblatt said IDEM has been monitoring the situation, but inspectors have not noted any violations from the city. Regional inspectors did not see any downstream impact outside of the county, so no notifications were sent out to communities outside of Elkhart County.
CONCERNS ABOUT WATER POLLUTION
The Elkhart County Health Department’s office of environmental services tests the county’s river waters for bacteria, including E. coli. Although the department tests the water regularly, it was not required to test the water as a result of the release of wastewater into the Elkhart River last week.
High levels of E. coli are found in many Indiana streams and lakes regularly, but the bacteria tends to die off easily, said Ron Turco, director of the Indiana Water Resources Research Center at Purdue University.
There are other concerns when wastewater is dumped into a river, like bacteria released from waste solids eating the oxygen in the water and causing the death of fish in the area, Turco said.
Because it rained, the increased amount of water running down the river helped dilute the wastewater. After a week, “the profile of the river looks like it normally would,” Turco said.
Goldblatt said that it is recommended that you avoid drinking any untreated water in the state at any point in time and to shower anytime you’ve been in contact with it.
GOSHEN HAS A CSO RETAINER
Prior to 2011 it would have been normal for Goshen, like many other communities in the Great Lakes region, to dump wastewater into the river anytime it rained or there was heavy snowmelt.
Federal and state environmental agencies established policies to stop cities from dumping wastewater into the river.
Goshen was one of the first cities to finish their CSO project, Mayor Allan Kauffman said when Goshen’s combined sewer overflow detention facility started operating in 2011.
As a comparison, Elkhart has until 2029 to complete its own CSO project. Other communities, like Lafayette, are also working on CSO retention projects, Turco said.
"They’re to be applauded for their system,“ Turco said about Goshen’s CSO retention system. “To have a retention system, that is a pretty progressive situation.”