Oct 15, 2018

Untreated Wastewater Spilled into Lake Michigan

Milwaukee water reclamation facility to blame for spill into Lake Michigan

Milwaukee water reclamation facility to blame for spill into Lake Michigan
Milwaukee water reclamation facility to blame for spill into Lake Michigan.

According to The Heartland Institute, more than 3 million gal of untreated wastewater spilled into Lake Michigan from Jones Island Water Reclamation Facility during a power outage. The facility is a sewage treatment in Milwaukee.

The cause of the outage is to be determined. The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) established a goal of operating on 80% renewable energy by 2035, eventually using 100% new renewable energy. This would be 80% of which the organization expects to generate onsite. According to The Heartland Institute, wind and solar energy are intermittent and require back by other power sources.

The Jones Island facility power was out for nearly three hours on Aug. 18. The backup gas generators used for emergencies were offline for maintenance, when the outage occurred. The events resulted in wastewater flooding part of the plant and spilling into the lake.

MMSD is powered by renewable energy sources. The district uses biogas produced from biosolids, and from municipal solid waste. Its use of renewable energy has fallen due to the repeated failure of its onsite biogas powered generating system.

Isaac Orr, policy fellow of the American Experiment, thinks as the district relies more on renewable energy source to power its facilities these spills may become more common.

“Because renewable energy sources are intermittent, and there are no good, large-scale, cost-effective power storage systems for them, relying on renewable sources for 100 or even 80 percent of the power needed to carry out the vital function of treating solid waste and municipal water treatment is likely to be a recipe for disaster,” Orr said to The Heartland Institute. “Twenty-four/seven electric power is a necessity to avoid wastewater spills, and renewable energy sources just can’t be counted on to supply that.”

As a native of Wisconsin, Orr said Milwaukee should allocate money to priorities like energy infrastructure to prevent incidents like this.

“As someone who grew up in Wisconsin, it’s embarrassing Milwaukee can’t seem to handle basic water sanitation services,” Orr said to The Heartland Institute. “The Milwaukee Common Council approved a proposal for a $128 million streetcar running through downtown Milwaukee in 2015, and construction began in 2017. Rather than spending the $128 million on the streetcar lines, they should have devoted the money to improved energy reliability and better sanitation services.”