Don’t touch the floodwater.
Heavy rain over a three-day period this week overwhelmed sewage pipes throughout the Triangle, causing untreated waste to spill.
About 1.25 million gallons of sewage spilled near the 1400 block of West Noble Street in the Johnston County town of Selma on Tuesday and Wednesday, according to the county.
Significantly smaller spills were reported in Four Oaks, Durham, Smithfield, Youngsville and Franklinton.
It’s unclear how much sewage has spilled in Raleigh, where Crabtree Creek, Walnut Creek and the Neuse River swelled above their banks.
Crabtree Creek, a tributary of the Neuse that runs west to east through Raleigh, fell below its flood stage by Wednesday. But the 6 to 9 inches of rain that fell in the Triangle Sunday through Tuesday morning is still causing problems in some areas.
“We have experienced and still are experiencing numerous (sewage spills) in the collection system, particularly along Crabtree Creek and the Neuse River where most of the sewer system is still under water,” Robert Massengill, Raleigh’s public utilities director, wrote in an email.
In Raleigh, Crabtree Creek runs near Lassiter Mill Road, Anderson Drive, Wake Forest Road and Atlantic Avenue. The Neuse River runs north to south between Interstates 440 and 540 east of Raleigh.
“Some of the (spills) are still ongoing and will continue until the creeks and river levels go down,” Massengill said.
Regardless of whether sewage seeps up, people should always avoid contact with heavy stormwater flows, said Ed Buchan, environmental coordinator for the public utilities department.
“Substantial rainfall events tend to wash all sorts of contamination sources into streams that otherwise would not enter a water body,” Buchan said. “Examples include pet waste, chemicals applied to yards, oil residue from vehicles.”
Raleigh is in the process of building a $35 million pipeline along Crabtree Creek to prevent it from spilling sewage into rivers and streams during heavy rain. Existing pipes operate near maximum capacity during peak times, hauling about 20 million gallons to the city’s wastewater treatment plant each day.
During heavy rains, runoff and groundwater can flood into the pipes and cause them to overflow. Last July, sewage spills caused by rainfall dumped more than 130,000 gallons of untreated sewage into Crabtree Creek.
Construction crews recently finished the first phase of the project, creating tunnels along the creek from I-440 to Capital Boulevard, said Eileen Navarrete, administrator of Raleigh’s utilities construction.
“Those tunnels are complete, and we now have a different contractor working for Public Utilities who will ‘connect the dots’ between the road crossings,” Navarrete said. “This work will take approximately two years to complete.”