As rain falls Spokane River rises with sewage and storm water

SPOKANE, Wash. - As rain totals reach record levels for the month, all the water is causing sewage to spill into the Spokane River. It's something the city knows about and is working to change.

In parts of Spokane the sewage and storm water drain together to the wastewater treatment facility. When it rains more than a quarter-inch that sewage and storm water overflow into valves that spill into the Spokane River.

The thought keeps Bart Mihailovich awake at night.

"A couple years ago I went floating after a big (rain) event and you see brown stuff in the water and you smell it," he said.

sewage overflow video

Mihailovich is a Spokane "River Keeper," a non-profit advocacy group that works to protect and restore the river. He's concerned about the number of recent overflows this month. On Wednesday 10 of the 22 combined sewage overflows, or pipes, were overflowing, "causing human health concerns, ecosystem concerns, and overall just smell and other issues associated with it," Mihailovich said.

The City of Spokane knows about the problem, and it's currently working to install large tanks to collect the overflow.

"The projects we're doing this year are part of that work and we've done projects in the past," City spokesperson Marlene Feist said. "We have tanks that are already online that we worked on last summer and prior to that."

The city is required by federal law to change the overflow system by 2017. The problem, the project will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

"We have seen some increases in sewer costs over the last couple of years to help pay for that. So far we haven't bonded for that work, but we could have to do that in the future," Feist said.

Mihailovich says he doesn't want anyone's rates to rise, but he also doesn't want anyone's sewage rising either.

"I'll definitely advise people not to swim or kayak or boat in the river after a big rain event," he said.

Both sides of the issue say this is not a problem unique to Spokane, and it happens in other cities. The federal law is designed to change that.