WLSSD, Hermantown ask residents to reduce water use as sewage overflows occur in Duluth

Joining Proctor, officials are hoping to reduce massive flow overwhelming sanitary sewer system.

Western Lake Superior Sanitary District is pictured in 2010.
File / News Tribune

DULUTH — Residents of Duluth and Hermantown are being asked to curtail water use as much as possible to send less sewage and greywater down the drain and reduce the overall flow of water headed into sewers.

Proctor had already asked its residents to curtail water use — all this as millions of gallons of snowmelt seep into an old, leaky system of collection pipes overwhelming the sanitary sewage system in the Twin Ports.

That so-called inflow and infiltration had been a problem for decades, combining clean meltwater with sewage to max-out the system and cause overflows into the environment, often running into local streams and on into Lake Superior.

More than a decade ago, under order from the federal government, the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District, the sewage treatment authority where all the local sewage ends up, combined with the city of Duluth to upgrade pumping stations and main sewer lines, add emergency generators and build massive storage tanks to accept the inflow and infiltration during wet weather-related events. That effort, costing more than $160 million, along with programs to disconnect homeowner’s sump pumps from the sewage system (and simply sending that water out into yards) worked to nearly eliminate overflows.

But this week the melt is sending too much water too fast into the system, more than tripling the amount of water going to the WLSSD’s Lincoln Park plant — from 38 million gallons on an average dry day to more than 120 million in recent days. The plant serves 17 cities and townships around the Twin Ports. in Duluth, the city and WLSSD divide responsibility for parts of the system. The meltwater enters the sewage system through leaky pipe under residents' yards and along streets.


That massive amount of water has already caused “several wet-weather related overflows this week,” noted AJ Axtell, director of community relations for WLSSD.

Axtell reported one overflow of diluted but untreated sewage occurred in Proctor with an estimated 10,000 gallons and another near Mall Drive in Duluth, along Miller Creek, of an estimated 100,000 gallons.

“Collective efforts to limit everything from doing laundry, washing dishes, taking showers and/or baths, and flushing toilets will help reduce the pressure on the system and aid in avoiding overflows into basements and property,’’ the Hermantown Public Works Department posted on Facebook Thursday.

Rain falling on top of melting snow this weekend could make the problem much worse.

“Sending less water down the drain from your home or business decreases the number of gallons that are sent through our pipes and pumps. Also ensure that all sump pumps and drains are sending water into the yard and away from homes and buildings,’’ the WLSSD noted in a release.

The WLSSD also is asking residents to report any overflow from a manhole and avoid contact with any sewer overflow due to the potential for exposure to disease-causing organisms. Storm sewers and sanitary sewers may also lift and move manhole covers creating dangerous fall hazards when the overflow ceases. Contact the WLSSD at 722-3336 24-hours per day to report overflowing manholes or any open manhole.

Road closures

Meanwhile several roads are closed or topped with water across the region due to rising water levels.
In Duluth:

  • The intersection of Mall Drive and Maple Grove Road.
  • Portions of Norton Road, including the 2700-2800 blocks of Norton Road.
  • The corner of Pleasantview Avenue and Whittier Street.

In Hermantown:


  • Lindahl Road, north of Maple Grove Road.
  • Five Corners Road.
  • Old Midway Road, south of Hermantown Road.
  • Reinke Road.

This story was updated at 2 p.m. Friday, April 14 with additional information on sewage spills. It was originally posted at 8:54 a.m. Friday, April 14.

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John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at
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