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.