Nearly three weeks after flood, untreated sewage still flowing into river at Barnum

After two and a half weeks of raw sewage flowing into the Moose Horn River, Moose Lake's sewage treatment plant is back up and running this week. But nearby Barnum's plant is still off line and pushing untreated sewage into the river system. The ...

Raw sewage released
Barnum is releasing sewage onto the banks of the Moose Horn River while waiting for parts needed to repair its main pumping station. (Steve Kuchera /

After two and a half weeks of raw sewage flowing into the Moose Horn River, Moose Lake's sewage treatment plant is back up and running this week.

But nearby Barnum's plant is still off line and pushing untreated sewage into the river system.

The Moose Lake plant's main lift station, which pumps all of the city's sewage into the treatment plant, was down after pumps and electrical equipment were ruined by the June 19-20 flood, said Jaramie Logelin of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's wastewater treatment office in Duluth.

That pump shutdown allowed city sewage to bypass the plant and flow into the Moose Horn River system.

The same thing happened upstream in Barnum, where the main pumping station flooded, but the damage has not been repaired yet and sewage is still bypassing the treatment plant entirely and flowing directly into the Moose Horn River.


"Moose Lake got the parts they needed and were operational starting Saturday," Logelin said. "Barnum is still bypassing but expects to get the parts they needed any day."

Logelin expressed frustration with the parts supplier for Barnum -- South Dakota-based Dakota Pump Inc. -- saying he personally called them to speed up the process.

"It's been almost three weeks. That's getting to the point where it can't be called an emergency situation anymore," he said.

Brett Collier, Barnum's public works supervisor, agreed.

"They are promising us by the end of this week," Collier said, noting part of the problem is the old age of the pumping system. "They couldn't even get impellers for that pump any more. They don't make them."

Randy Myhre, who owns property on both the Moose Horn River and Big Hanging Horn Lake, said the sewage issue ruined the July 4 holiday for many residents because no one could swim or play in the water just downstream from Barnum's discharge.

"It's ridiculous in this day and age that we have to wait this long to get a part. Are they sending it by covered wagon?" Myhre said. "Barnum is doing what they can. But they aren't getting any help. ... Someone should have put some pressure on that supplier to get this done sooner."

Untreated sewage contains E. coli and other fecal bacteria that, in high numbers, can affect human health and cause flu-like symptoms if water is swallowed. But because there was so much rainwater moving down the rivers, and so much rainwater mixed in with the sewage, Logelin expects the bacteria levels to drop quickly once the sewage plants are operating. He expects no long-term environmental or public health issues and said he expects no violation notices or fines for the cities because the scope of the flooding could not have been predicted or prevented.


The PCA has been testing water along the Moose Horn River system at eight locations since June 28 and on two occasions found elevated levels at three locations: Moosehead Lake in Moose Lake, a private beach on Hanging Horn Lake and along the Moose Horn River near Sturgeon Lake. Only the Moose Horn River site near Sturgeon Lake had high levels of bacteria in the test results released Friday. It's not clear to PCA officials why that site farther downstream had higher levels than sites directly near sewage discharge points. (The Sturgeon Lake sewage plant did not have flood problems.)

Ann Moore, PCA spokeswoman in Duluth, said all of the samples taken so far came back with bacteria counts below what the agency has found in the Duluth harbor during summer beach testing. Still, the PCA is urging no swimming throughout the entire Moose Horn River system, and will continue that suggestion until the Barnum system is up and running and all water samples come back negative for high bacteria levels.

"We're asking people to err on the side of caution, to stay out of the water in that whole area until things are back to normal," said Anne Perry Moore, PCA spokeswoman in Duluth.

Additional water samples were taken Monday and the results will be available today, Moore said.

Barnum is sending about 28,000 gallons per day of untreated sewage into the river, down from the city's usual flow of about 50,000 gallons per day thanks to water conservation efforts in the community. Moose Lake was sending about 600,000 gallons of combined sewage and rainwater into the river per day until the pumps were running, Logelin said.

Duluth and the Western Lake Superior Sanitary District also reported major sewage/rainwater discharges during the June deluge, but the WLSSD plant was not affected. Kettle River, Willow River and Cromwell also had unplanned releases from their wastewater stabilizing ponds, which store already treated sewage, after the flood. Water from those ponds usually is released to coincide with high flows in local rivers "so it wasn't necessarily a bad time for that to happen," Logelin said, considering river flows were at or above all-time record flow levels.

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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