Contaminated water dumped into Chester Creek from Walgreens siteOfficials say the contaminated water flowed into Chester Creek and eventually into Lake Superior, violating the construction permit with the city.
By: Brandon Stahl and Candace Renalls, Duluth News Tribune
Construction workers at the site of the new Walgreens in the Kenwood neighborhood were found discharging what was described as milky, sediment-laden water into the city’s storm sewer late last month.
The contaminated water flowed into Chester Creek and eventually into Lake Superior and violated the construction permit with the city, said Eric Shaffer, the city of Duluth’s chief engineer of utilities.
Shaffer characterized the incident as minor and said no fines or stop-work orders were issued.
He said the sediment was most likely dirt, clay and mud moved from the site into the water. The sediment gets suspended in the water, depleting it of oxygen, which can harm trout, Shaffer said. Chester Creek is a trout stream.
“The volume of water was small,” he said. “They had a small pump draining water from a very small area.”
The problem was discovered by city water quality specialist Todd Carlson on Nov. 28, when the city’s utility operations office got a call about a “milky color” in Chester Creek, according to an e-mail he sent to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and obtained by the News Tribune.
Carlson said he traced the milky discharge back to the corner of Kenwood and Arrowhead Road, where a new Walgreens is being constructed.
“When I looked into the construction area I witnessed them pumping sediment-laden water directly into the back of the catch basin,” Carlson wrote.
“Contractors are required to clean the water before pumping it into the catch basin,” Shaffer said.
Shaffer said it’s not known how much contaminated water was discharged into the storm sewer.
Carlson wrote that the contractor found discharging the contaminated water into the basin was Watters and Sons, which is installing sewers and piping.
Contacted by the News Tribune, the owner of the Duluth business, William Watters, denied pumping contaminated water into the basin. He said water started flowing from cracks in rocks when the site was blasted, causing water to flow around the storm pipes along Arrowhead Raod, not in them.
Watters acknowledged that a city worker inspected the site and told workers there that they needed to filter the water being pumped into the storm sewer. But he said they didn’t get a filter or use one because they didn’t need to pump.
Shaffer said the workers were ordered to stop the pumping and they complied. The next day they went to the city’s engineering department, were told what to do to comply with the permit, and they were allowed to work on the site.
Shaffer said an inspection of the site was made after that, but he said he could not provide records of that happening.
A Walgreens spokesman said the company was not aware of the issue and was in contact with the developer of the construction project.
Staff writer John Myers contributed to this story.