A ‘breakdown in communication’ results in failure to promptly report sewage spill

Because of what its executive director last week termed a “breakdown in communication,” the Metropolitan St. Louis Sew-er District did not promptly report a recent sewage spill in south county to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.

The overflow began June 24 when both pumps at an MSD lift station near Jefferson Barracks were overcome by rising floodwaters and debris from the Mississippi River.

The malfunction caused an overflow of untreated sewage into the river.

Floodwaters hindered the use of emergency pumps, but crews fixed the leak by the afternoon of June 29.

“MSD forces worked continuously through the weekend to get that station re-turned to service,” said Jeff Theerman, the district’s executive director, at the July 8 Board of Trustees meeting. “That station was returned to service in a timely fashion.”

While the district contends it is impossible to tell how much wastewater entered the river during those five days, the DNR stated in a news release the amount could have been as much as 4.6 million gallons per day.

The DNR requires sewer departments and districts to verbally report sewage overflows within 24 hours and to file a written report within five days of the spill. MSD filed the written report on-time but did not immediately notify the state of the incident, Theerman said.

“Unfortunately it’s not the way we choose to do business, but in this particular case we had a breakdown in communication that resulted in a failure to report,” Theerman said. “We’ve taken steps to make sure our internal communication doesn’t have a similar breakdown in the future.”

In unrelated business last week, the Board of Trustees received recommendations from the sewer district’s charter review committee.

The Plan Amendment Commission has been studying the MSD Charter for the past year and last week submitted a report containing 30 recommended amendments to the document. All charter amendments must be put to voters within district boundaries for approval.

MSD officials said the next step is for the board’s Stakeholder Relations Committee to consider which amendments to put on the ballot. The Board of Trustees can accept any, all or none of the amendments, and add additional amendments.