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Tulsa County gets its fill of waste.

In mid-March, 2.3 million gallons of untreated sewage spilled out of a manhole located blocks away from Drillers Stadium in Tulsa County, OK. Nearly three inches of rain had flooded the sanitary sewer and caused the overflow. About two miles away and less than a month later, a three-day storm caused the sewer to flood again.

This time the system leaked for 26 hours and spilled 8.6 million gallons of sewage onto East Sixth Street in a residential neighborhood, according to an Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality report.

By early August, a third sewer failed, according to DEQ data. This time a broken sewer main sent 15 million gallons of waste pouring out of a pipe near East 121st Street. The spill lasted nearly nine days.

During those three incidents, an estimated 25 million gallons of raw waste, enough to fill about 39 Olympic-size swimming pools, spilled from sanitary sewer systems in Tulsa County, according to state data.

The three spills accounted for about half of the 53 million gallons leaked so far this year and put Tulsa County on pace to record its largest amount of spilled sewage since the state has tracked unpermitted discharges.

Local and state wastewater managers said that while they recognize the need for sewer upgrades, the area has some of the best-run wastewater systems in Oklahoma. The sewage leaks, they said, make up only a fraction of the processing capability of area wastewater treatment plants.

But environmentalists, government officials and utility managers blame the leaks in part on the nation's aging wastewater infrastructure, some of which is more than 100 years old and overflows during heavy rains. They said it would take a massive amount of money to repair the problems.

According to the EPA's Clean Water Needs Survey, the county's sewer plants need about $686 million in upgrades. The money would help overhaul a system that crews continue to inspect and fix, said Thomas Krueger, Tulsa's water pollution manager.

Of the county's 2,965 unpermitted wastewater discharges since 2000, nearly 400 were the direct result of equipment or infrastructure problems, a Tulsa World analysis found.

Such problems include broken pumps, separated sewer lines and defective manholes.

An influx of water into a system accounted for another 785 spills. Heavy rains can flood old sewers that were not designed to process large amounts of water in a short period.
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Title Annotation:NEWSline: Latest Industry Developments
Publication:Underground Construction
Date:Jan 1, 2009
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