Tropical Storm Cindy is seen in a satellite image is from June 20. (NASA)
Officials at Mobile’s water system have revised their estimates of the amount of untreated water released during Tropical Storm Cindy, dropping the amount by half.
During the week, the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System (MAWSS) released statements that the heavy rains brought by Cindy had led to widespread overflows, but that totals were not yet available. Early Friday afternoon, it released estimated totals that added up to nearly 18 million gallons – a remarkably high figure, considering that MAWSS had estimated spills of up to 10 million gallons during Hurricane Katrina and that Cindy’s rains, while significant, set no records.
Within hours, MAWSS had released a statement saying that the numbers released earlier needed “further evaluation.”
“Due to the duration of the storm and long hours required by employees, it was necessary to utilize staff from other departments who were not as experienced in estimating volumes,” the statement said. “We are reviewing the volumes and, if necessary, will correct the information with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management. A revised advisory will be sent as soon as it is available.”
New numbers were released at about 8:30 p.m. While significantly lower, at 9,238,381 gallons, the overflow total from Cindy remains the biggest in recent memory. In a January 2017 deluge, the area received up to 12 inches of rain in 36 hours, and more than 2.8 million gallons of untreated water overflowed.
MAWSS said that the corrected totals remained a source of concern.
“Even revised, the totals point out that we have a serious problem with aging infrastructure,” the statement released Friday evening said. “Nearly half of our sewer lines have reached the end of their useful lives. Cracks and joint separations are allowing stormwater to infiltrate and surcharge the lines, causing them to overflow from manholes. MAWSS is addressing these issues with capital projects and developing a master plan to address aging infrastructure going forward.”
Typically after major spills, the Mobile County Health Department issues advisories that people should be wary of swimming in affected areas, should wash carefully after handling seafood and should only eat seafood that has been thoroughly cooked.
This week’s overflows affected several waterways. Dog River received 376,875 gallons of untreated water, Eslava Creek received 3,740,496 gallons, Halls Mill Creek received 1,278,250 gallons, the Mobile River received 4,275 gallons and Three Mile Creek received 3,838,485 gallons. The largest overflow at a single site came on Siena Vista Drive in Midtown, where 2,034,000 gallons overflowed into Three Mile Creek.
MAWSS has improvements in the works, including an $8 million overflow basin on Halls Mill Creek, that are intended to cut down on such overflows.
MAWSS is not the only area system flooded by Cindy: South Alabama Utilities has reported several spills in Citronelle, totaling between 7,900 and 16,900 gallons. In one case, the utility reported, heavy rains cause an overflow/diversion pond at the Citronelle Waste Water Treatment Plant to overflow into Puppy Creek. Dauphin Island and Bayou La Batre also reported small overflows.
Alabama 63 is washed out in Talapoosa County near Goodwater Road, the sheriff’s office reports.
Many Panhandle beaches are under a single red flag today, meaning water is open though officials are advising swimmers to use extreme caution. (Contributed photo/South Walton Fire District)