Flooding and Raw Sewage

We just released American Rivers eight point flood response agenda as recovery from the devastating midwest floods begins. As my colleague Will Hewes reports, sewage treatment is yet another flooding casualty:

The flood waters that devastated the Midwest last month have receded, and the long process of recovery is underway. While the news headlines have been filled with stories about rebuilding homes and planting new crops, one piece of the clean up that has slipped under the radar is the repairs to the many sewage treatment plants that were inundated by high water. A couple of weeks after the worst of the flooding was over, five communities in Iowa alone still did not have functioning sewage treatment facilities. Cedar Rapids was dumping its sewage directly into the Cedar River. The Town of Anamosa’s treatment plant sustained extensive damage which will cost $3 million and take at least three months to repair. Officials estimated it would take two weeks just to restore primary treatment. That means sewage with little or no treatment will plague Iowa’s rivers for some time to come.

The recent floods aren’t something you see every day, but such extreme storms are becoming more frequent as global warming continues to take hold. There is an increasing likelihood that, in addition to other damages, sewage treatment plants will be knocked off line more and more as the planet warms. This means that communities struggling to upgrade infrastructure will have to find scarce funds to pay for emergency repairs to sewage treatment plants and that we are likely to see raw sewage flowing into waterways across the country for weeks and months at a time following these major floods, with serious consequences for human health.

Yet another reason to cut our carbon emissions now and protect natural floodplains and wetlands before floods of raw sewage become a common occurrence.