Rainwater brings up sewage in Shelbyville

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By Scotty McDaniel

The city of Shelbyville received some of the heaviest rain it has seen in years last week, causing serious floods -- and sometimes worse.

Clear Creek completely flooded Elmo Head Park, located at the bottom of the hill at 4th and Bradshaw.

With the sewage line under water, a stinking blend of toilet paper, excrement, condoms and the like bubbled up from manhole covers and floated into the stream. As the water receded, some of the mix was left strewn across the park to soak up the sun, giving off an unbearable stench.

One local man said there are often children running around barefoot in the unkempt park's infested grass, and one little girl picked up a condom she found and put it in her mouth before her mother could stop her.

Tom Doyle, Shelbyville Municipal Water and Sewer Commission manager, said this a rare example of a case where the entire sewer system was under water, because of the severe flooding.

"We try to prevent as many of those as possible," he said. "But sometimes in a situation like last week you just can't compete with Mother Nature."

It is an area he said the commission will continue to investigate.

A similar problem occurs when floodwater rises behind the Sentinel-News building and sewer contents gurgle out of the ground like a fountain into the grass. Sometimes the creek carries the sewage into a nearby parking lot.

The commission is trying to gather information on the lines in the area, and Doyle said a larger pump would likely help the problem at this location.

Despite examples like these, he said the city's sewer lines have greatly improved over recent years.

While cities such as Louisville, Lexington and Cincinnati remain in the news for costly fines each has received due to sewage overflows and bypasses, he said Shelbyville had its violation lifted because it has improved on those issues.

He said the commission is always monitoring the city's sewage lines, and residents should report any related problems.

When he gets a call from a resident he said he has to inform the Kentucky Division of Water so it is recorded, and then the commission will send workers out to clean the area if needed.

The biggest problem he said the city faces is inflow infiltration -- getting storm water into the sewage system through the top of manhole covers or other ways, which leads to flooding.

Mayor Tom Hardesty said flooding issues are a large concern of his, and Doyle and the commission have done a good job of dealing with those matters.

"I'm sorry people have experienced overflows," Mayor Tom Hardesty said. "We've spent many dollars on inflow infiltration to try and keep groundwater out of our sewer system."

At times, Doyle said it might be necessary to raise manhole tops, replace old pipes or install larger pumps - expensive but effective solutions.

The commission has an arsenal of equipment that can be used to deal with several causes of waste overflow. He said a jet machine can open a line stoppage, and generators can be used to power pumps in the case of electrical outages.

"The only ones (causes) we can't control are Mother Nature," he said.

Another major cause of flooding are people who illegally hook sump pumps or gutters to the sanitary sewer system, he said.

Mayor Hardesty said the city might start testing more sewer lines in the community to try and find illegal connections.

There is an ordinance that makes illegal connections a finable offense, but Hardesty said he hopes it doesn't come that.

"We don't want to catch you with an illegal sump pump," he said. "We'd hope people would just do the right thing and unhook them."

The mayor said it's an ongoing process to search for cost-effective solutions, whether dealing with ineffective sewer lines, illegal connections or Mother Nature.

"Those are some of the issues that cause the flooding," he said. "And we're going to try to detect and correct whatever ones we can find."