Sewage that started leaking this weekend and stopped on Tuesday has turned water black in a bayou flowing out of the Baton Rouge lakes and left a foul odor for neighbors, bikers and walkers in the area.
Officials with the Sanitary Sewer Overflow program said a break in a pipe caused sewage to leak into Bayou Duplantier for a couple of days until city workers plugged the pipe and started cleaning up the mess on Tuesday.
University Lake, a common destination for bikers, walkers and those looking to enjoy the outdoors, ultimately outflows to Bayou Duplantier from a spillway.
Sanitary Sewer Overflow Deputy Program Manager Joseph Young said sewage leaked into the bayou in the process of upgrading and removing an old pipe that runs through it.
Baton Rouge has been in the process of building a new sewer system after leaky pipes and lack of capacity forced the city-parish to enter a federal consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2002 to fix the system.
The creation of the Sanitary Sewer Overflow program is costing the city-parish taxpayers more than $1.3 billion and Baton Rouge residents are seeing their sewer bills increase on a yearly basis with no end in sight.
Young said sewage leaks like the one in Bayou Duplantier are exactly what the new sewer system should prevent. And until the full sewer system is ready to go, he said, sewage leaks like this might continue to occur.
“The reason the sewer program is here is to eliminate those overflows,” he said.
Holly Carville, who lives in a nearby neighborhood and has been seeing and smelling the sewage, pinpointed the problem at where Stanford Avenue, LSU Avenue and West Lakeshore Drive all converge.
“Last night, it was just unbelievable, awful,” Carville said on Tuesday. “And today, it’s just been ongoing. If it keeps going, then all the fish die, then all the animals start eating the dead fish.”
She said she tried to contact both Bryan Harmon, interim director of the Department of Public Works, and Amy Schulze, the city’s chief of Wastewater Operations and Maintenance. Neither responded, she said.
Neither Harmon nor Schulze returned requests for comment for this story.
Baton Rouge resident John Price said he was riding his bike Monday on the Stanford Avenue bike path when he noticed the sewage in the water. He followed the path to just south of the University Laboratory School and reported the problem with a 311 call to the city-parish.
“I parked at Stanford beach and as soon as I got on the bike path between the lake and bayou, I saw the water and I said, boy that looks funny,” he said.
Metro Councilman John Delgado, who represents the district that includes the lakes, said his office has received numerous phone calls and complaints about the sewage. Delgado said city workers are using lake water to backwash the tainted bayou water, pumping the dirty water backward through filters in the same method used to clean pools.
“Most everyone realized that we were working on it and everyone’s been reasonably patient,” Delgado said. “Obviously, I can fully empathize with their situation, I’d be going nuts too.”
Baton Rouge has seen multiple sewage problems in the past few weeks. Last week, sewage backed up into the streets of the Gardere area of the city after severe thunderstorms shut off power at the South Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Young from the Sanitary Sewer Overflow program said they expect the new sewer system to be fully operational by the fall. Until all the old pipes are replaced and generators are fully installed at the South Wastewater Treatment Plant, more sewage backups could occur.
“The public needs to be aware of it so no kids go play in it,” said Price, the bike rider. “The water’s black.”