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Sewage leak causing ‘large and growing’ fish kill in McKellar Lake

Time: 2016-04-05


April 4, 2016 - Larry Stanley, owner of Riverside Lake Marina, picks up tools from his dock after a warning sign was installed on one of his work boats at McKellar Lake Monday. The City of Memphis has closed the boat ramp at 1875 McKellar Drive, which allows access to McKellar Lake, after a major sewer line transporting wastewater to the TE Maxson Wastewater Treatment Plant was damaged Thursday. The city expects a bypass to be in place Wednesday to stop the waste from spilling into Cypress Creek. "Normally we would have probably 30 boats out here," Stanley said, who has been turning boaters away. "With no boats we have no business. (With) new water coming in and so forth that this thing will flush itself out once they get it capped off and this will be safe waters again." (Yalonda M. James/The Commercial Appeal)
April 4, 2016 - Larry Stanley, owner of Riverside Lake Marina, picks up tools from his dock after a warning sign was installed on one of his work boats at McKellar Lake Monday. The City of Memphis has closed the boat ramp at 1875 McKellar Drive, which allows access to McKellar Lake, after a major sewer line transporting wastewater to the TE Maxson Wastewater Treatment Plant was damaged Thursday. The city expects a bypass to be in place Wednesday to stop the waste from spilling into Cypress Creek. "Normally we would have probably 30 boats out here," Stanley said, who has been turning boaters away. "With no boats we have no business. (With) new water coming in and so forth that this thing will flush itself out once they get it capped off and this will be safe waters again." (Yalonda M. James/The Commercial Appeal)
April 4, 2016 - Lisse Wendt, a retired school teacher, grabs a piece of rope as Allen Kobiske (left) and Tye Gwin (purple shirt) back up a boat into a slip at Riverside Lake Marina at McKellar Lake Monday. The City of Memphis has closed the boat ramp at 1875 McKellar Drive, which allows access to McKellar Lake, after a major sewer line transporting wastewater was damaged Thursday. The city expects a bypass to be in place Wednesday to stop the waste from spilling into Cypress Creek. "My husband can't fish anymore, that's the only thing," Wendt said. "They tell us don't take the boats out and keep the kayaks out of the water until they get the sewage stopped up and stuff. Maybe a good rain will come through and wash it away and we can get back to a regular day in the life." (Yalonda M. James/The Commercial Appeal)
April 4, 2016 - Lisse Wendt, a retired school teacher, grabs a piece of rope as Allen Kobiske (left) and Tye Gwin (purple shirt) back up a boat into a slip at Riverside Lake Marina at McKellar Lake Monday. The City of Memphis has closed the boat ramp at 1875 McKellar Drive, which allows access to McKellar Lake, after a major sewer line transporting wastewater was damaged Thursday. The city expects a bypass to be in place Wednesday to stop the waste from spilling into Cypress Creek. "My husband can't fish anymore, that's the only thing," Wendt said. "They tell us don't take the boats out and keep the kayaks out of the water until they get the sewage stopped up and stuff. Maybe a good rain will come through and wash it away and we can get back to a regular day in the life." (Yalonda M. James/The Commercial Appeal)

By Tom Charlier of The Commercial Appeal

A massive spill of raw sewage from a ruptured line in Southwest Memphis has produced a "large and growing" fish kill in McKellar Lake, state officials said Monday.

The number of fish that have died is unknown but could reach into the thousands, said Kelly Brockman, spokeswoman for the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The fish kill resulted from a damaged Memphis sewer line that is spewing up to 50 million gallons of waste daily into Cypress Creek, which empties into the lake near the Mitsubishi Electric manufacturing plant on Paul R. Lowry Road.

State and local officials have posted signs giving notice that water in the area may be contaminated and people should avoid contact with it. City officials on Monday also closed the boat ramp at Riverside Park Marina until further notice. The ramp provides access to McKellar, which is not truly a lake but a slack water harbor off the Mississippi River.

The rupture occurred Thursday after heavy rains eroded the ground beneath the sewer line, which carries sewage to the T.E. Maxson South Treatment Plant. City officials said Monday that public works crews are working around the clock to construct a bypass to halt the spill and should have one completed on Wednesday.

In the meantime, the wastewater is depleting the oxygen in the lake, causing fish to die.

"There is a fish kill," Brockman said. "It's large and growing."

TDEC and a number of other state and local agencies, including the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Shelby County Health Department, are investigating the sewage spill.

City officials said the boat ramp was closed "out of an abundance of caution" and on the recommendation of TWRA and the Health Department.

"While there is no immediate threat to public health or safety, the public is asked to heed the signs and avoid contact with affected area," the city's announcement said.

Even without the sewage spill, state officials had a long-standing advisory against fishing in McKellar Lake due to contamination involving PCBs, dioxin, mercury, chlordane and other chemicals.

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