Flood damage to blame for La Crosse sewer main failure officials say

La Crosse wastewater officials work to fix sewer failure after 42,000 gallons of sewage spill into La Crosse River
Sewage In Lax River

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – About 42,000 gallons of sewage spilled into the La Crosse River after a sewer main failed Saturday. La Crosse officials are busy fixing the problem.

Flood damage from two years ago is largely blamed according to one La Crosse official.  Every time people use water in their homes, it all flows somewhere.

“We have 205 miles of pipe,” Jared Greeno said, superintendent of wastewater treatment in La Crosse. “We treat 10 million gallons daily at the plant,”

He said water we flush heads down pipes buried in the ground leading to what is called a force main. The two force mains north of Riverside Park serve the Northside of La Crosse, the city of Onalaska, and the town of Campbell.

Over the weekend one sewer force main failed. The flood damage from 2018 is a big cause for this failure. People are not supposed to see the cement structure of the manhole on the force main, but it’s visible.

“It eroded about 12 [feet] of the bank,” Greeno said.

Greeno said they had plans to fix the damage. His department had their contractor picked in December and they thought they had more time.

“We never want this to ever happen,” he said. “Unfortunately, it did happen.”

Those 42,000 gallons of sewage seem like a lot, but the sewer line that goes through the area carries about 3 million gallons of sewage each day. The amount that was lost in the La Crosse River is a little more than a percent of the total sewage the sewer main handles each day.

UW-La Crosse geography professor Colin Belby said this is still not ideal.

“There’s also potential for things like excessive amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus, and other sorts of nutrients that can have some harmful effects on freshwater systems,” Belby said.

A person walking by the spill reported it preventing a more dangerous outcome.

“It’s good to have people out there walking around and understanding the environment that they live in,” Belby said.

Winter helps too. It buys them time to keep people safe.

“If it was summer it’d be a little bit different, people swimming in the river and whatnot,” Greeno said. “We want to be environmentally friendly and the first thing is public safety.”

The city plans to cut the pipe where there was a failure and build a new manhole in a better spot. So far sewage service is still working for La Crosse area residents.