State health department warns of wastewater discharge in Kansas River in Lawrence; city says heavy rain led to pump failure

photo by: Kim Callahan

The Kansas River and the Bowersock Dam are pictured Wednesday, June 1, 2022.

Updated at 11:35 a.m. Wednesday, May 31

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has issued a stream advisory for the Kansas River in Lawrence after a faulty pump resulted in contaminated wastewater being discharged into the river.

Trevor Flynn, assistant director of Municipal Services and Operations for the City of Lawrence, told the Journal-World that it was not yet known precisely how much discharge went into the river, but he estimated, based on duration and flow, that around 815,000 gallons entered the river. He said that the discharge occurred between 4 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Wednesday and was related to heavy rainfall overnight that caused one of the three pumps at the station to overheat and to stop working properly.

The pump station is near the Bowersock Dam near downtown Lawrence.

According to the National Weather Service, Lawrence received 3.74 inches of rain in the 28 hours since 7 a.m. Tuesday.

Flynn said the wastewater discharge has no impact on the city’s ability to treat and distribute safe drinking water.

“We’re going to go back and look at our data” to get the precise numbers, Flynn said. He said shortly after 11 a.m. Wednesday that the discharge had been stopped and that operations appeared to be back to normal.

The city has five days to prepare a written report for KDHE, Flynn said, and will have more details about the incident as that information comes together.

KDHE issued the advisory because potential elevated bacteria and contaminants may be present in the Kansas River due to the discharge. If you live or have activities near the river, do not enter the stream or allow children or pets to enter the stream, the advisory said.

KDHE will rescind the advisory once flows recede and subsequent bacteria testing indicates secondary contact has been deemed safe. Flynn said that because of expected rain throughout the rest of the week bacteria levels may be higher than normal as is generally the case with increased river flow.


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