HEYBURN — The city wastewater plant overflowed Monday, causing about 5,000 gallons of partially treated sewage to reach the Snake River.
The city reported the incident to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
Heyburn Councilwoman Joanne Justesen said the problem occurred when a clarifier at the city’s wastewater plant was unable to push the sludge around and spilled over.
The same clarifier overflowed last year as well.
“What spilled was not bad stuff, it still had to go through the UV process,” Justesen said. “But there was nothing raw and it had gone through some of the cleaning process.”
Resident Marlene Kelly owns property about 400 yards from the discharge area.
Her house guest Sam Logan, of California, was one of the first people to notice the spill, which looked like a brown froth on the water, and went to investigate where it was coming from.
“I didn’t like the looks of it,” Logan said.
Logan took pictures and video of the incident and reported it to the city.
“I was worried when I found out it was coming from the plant. Even if it was just the bacteria, it was still contaminated,” Kelly said.
Kelly said families who live downstream have children and she has grandchildren who often visit.
The spillage contained the biological “bugs” that break down the waste, city officials said. Staff were able to contain enough biological material at the ultra-violet station that the biological material will be replenished and there will not be a cost to city to replace it.
But, Justesen said, the city may face a Department of Environmental Quality fine from the spill.
Justesen said the city is a few months out from getting a new clarifier online that is part of the city’s sewer upgrade project.
A $12.4 million bond for sewer work was approved through judicial confirmation in 2018 after the city faced fines of $53,000 a day for being out of compliance. The project ultimately did not cost that much due to the city combining the bond money with grants, saving taxpayer dollars.
Citizens will only have to pay back a little more than $5.5 million of the costs due to grants.
“This really puts an exclamation point on the fact that this project should have been done years ago,” Justesen said. “This upgrade is so needed.”
Kelly said city employees were going door-to-door on Tuesday morning telling residents along the river about the spill.
Justesen said it is her understanding that the biological “bugs” will not harm anything and will just continue to break down bacteria in the river like they do at the plant.
Justesen said she’s asked that a new policy be placed on the Aug. 12 council meeting agenda to implement procedures to notify residents when incidents like this occurs.
“We want to be transparent,” she said. “Citizens need to know and have the right to know what’s going on in the city.”
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