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Sewage In Our Drinking Water?

CMU may make it a reality yet

Despite the millions of gallons of raw sewage Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities (CMU) has spilled into creeks and streams over the past year, a CMU spokesperson says the public shouldn't be concerned that it plans to build a sewage pump station directly upstream from one of the two intake points from which the county's drinking water supply is taken.In an interview with the Charlotte Observer last week, CMU spokesperson Cam Coley assured Observer reporters that there are already plenty of sewage pump stations operating upstream of the Mountain Island Lake intake point from which our drinking water comes. The impression was given that simply adding another one was no big deal.

Unfortunately, Coley neglected to mention to the Observer that CMU's particular interpretation of the word "upstream" is different from the one found in the Webster's Collegiate Dictionary and the one generally used by the rest of the population.

When badgered further by Creative Loafing, Coley admitted that the other existing sewage pump stations supposedly located "upstream" of the Mountain Island Lake drinking water intake weren't actually on the same stream. What he meant were that the stations were located at a higher elevation -- in another town on another stream.

"There are pump stations upstream of Mountain Island Lake in New York, too," said Doug Morgan, who lives on the lake near the proposed station.

What this means, and what CMU obviously is in no hurry to let the public know, is that it plans to build the first sewage pump station directly upstream of a drinking water intake. If the sewage pump station fails -- like so many others have in the past -- hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of gallons of raw sewage could wind up in the lake that supplies our drinking water.

Of course, CMU wants the public to know that people shouldn't worry about the situation because the pump station will have alarms and a backup generator -- just like the Long Creek pump station, from which 15 spills totaling 3.8 million gallons of raw sewage originated between 1997 and 2000.

In sewage spill reports reviewed by CL, CMU maintained that none of those 15 spills were its fault, despite the fact that six of the spills were due to electrical failures and two were due to failures of previous repairs to the sewer line. Five of the spills were attributed to private utility companies digging in the area.

It's worth noting that since the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the agency that is supposed to be regulating CMU, has ignored hundreds of illegal spills like the ones described above over the last five years, Mountain Island Lake residents like Morgan would have virtually no recourse if a spill were to occur.

When asked via email what impact a raw sewage spill might have on our drinking water if it were to drift downsteam, Coley left CL a voicemail message in which he said that "if there was an overflow that did reach the waters after all those backup systems, it would not affect the drinking water intake."

In another interview, Coley emphasized that the pump station, which is in preliminary design, might not be built if CMU can "find other ways of serving the area." The station is intended to serve nearby areas which the City of Charlotte plans to annex.

Coley also emphasized that the station as currently planned would be built to handle a maximum of 2 million gallons a day, but in reality the station would probably handle far less sewage than that.

Although CMU launched a program last year in which door hangers were supposed to be hung on residences directly affected by CMU sewage spills, Lowe's Motor Speedway President Humpy Wheeler and other residents of the Drake Cove area complained that they were not notified this winter about a 2.5 million gallon raw sewage spill into McDowell Creek, which is directly upstream, despite the fact that many of them owned homes on the water.

At the time, CMU spokesperson Vic Simpson said that CMU "did more than we were required to do, but not as much as we could have conceivably done" and that the agency wasn't deliberately trying to keep people in the dark.

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