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article imageHeavy downpours in U.S. bring flooding and sewage overflows

By Karen Graham     Sep 23, 2016 in Environment
Record rainstorms and flooding the past year in the United States have continued to make the national news, causing billions of dollars in damage and the deaths of dozens of people. But the overflow of untreated sewage is usually ignored.
Urban and suburban areas of the country are not immune to the "Code Brown" problem that frequently comes with flood events, and with the aging infrastructure in many of our major cities, it can become very messy and a serious health hazard.
Not only do sewage overflows pose a danger to the public health and environment, but they can also trigger dangerous outbreaks of water-borne diseases that are often associated with fish kills. Then there is the added cost of decontamination and repairs associated with cleaning up sewage in businesses and private homes.
Tucker Barnes  reporter from WTTG-TV  is getting covered with the remnants of raw sewage as he provi...
Tucker Barnes, reporter from WTTG-TV, is getting covered with the remnants of raw sewage as he provides hurricane report from Ocean City, Md.
Another problem is the "combined systems" found in many of our older cities, including parts of New York City and Philadelphia. In these systems, both storm water runoff and sewage are routed toward water treatment plants.
But when extreme downpours hit, the system is unable to handle the excess waste-water and it is discharged into the closest bodies of water to avoid having it pour into people's businesses and homes.
But the amazing thing is that there is no national database on sewage overflows or any information documenting the extent of the problem. Climate Central decided to look into the problem, doing a nationwide search that went back to 2015.
The search revealed there were 70 rain-related overflow events in the U.S. since January 2015. Of the 70 events, nearly 30 percent of them involved sewage overflows in excess of one million gallons of mixed runoff and sewage, enough to fill two Olympic-sized swimming pools.
The Ten largest sewage overflows identified in news reports between January 2015 -September 2016
The Ten largest sewage overflows identified in news reports between January 2015 -September 2016
The Ellicott City, Maryland flood event on July 30 this year came as the end-result of a two-hour rainfall. The resulting flooding not only came close to destroying the downtown area, but two people lost their lives. In the process, 25 million gallons of sewage became part of the flood waters that roared through the city.
But Milwaukee, Wisconsin had the largest overflow of sewage in the torrential rainfall event in April 2015, when 681 million gallons of raw sewage were released.
The flood-swollen Congaree River is seen near Columbia  South Carolina on October 5  2015
The flood-swollen Congaree River is seen near Columbia, South Carolina on October 5, 2015
Mladen Antonov, AFP
Milwaukee had another sewage overflow this year at the end of August, the first since the April 2015 event, caused by a torrential rainfall that dropped 3.5 inches an hour and overwhelmed the capacity of a municipal combined sewer. But there are no results on how much sewage overflowed into the streets.
The climate's impact on rainfall and extreme weather events
The Midwestern region of the U.S. is impacted by both cold air masses coming down from Canada and warm, humid air masses coming up from the Gulf of Mexico. This causes extreme variability in weather conditions in the region. But with climate change, the Midwest has gotten warmer.
Climate change is already causing rainstorms to intensify as we are seeing more torrential rainfalls, and in turn, more flood events. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is reporting there has already been a 20 percent increase in precipitation in some areas.
A flash flood watch for Houston  Texas will remain in effect until Wednesday morning  with more rain...
A flash flood watch for Houston, Texas will remain in effect until Wednesday morning, with more rain expected Tuesday, the city's Office of Emergency Management warned
Drew Anthony Smith, Getty/AFP/File
In the middle of August, while millions of people in the northeast were sweltering in a heat wave amid extreme weather warnings in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, people living in southern Louisiana, and Mississippi were fighting for their lives in many cases in unprecedented flooding caused by an area of low pressure slowly moved west along the Gulf Coast, according to Digital Journal.
Climate scientists are saying that with the increased heat and humidity we are seeing in this country, we can expect to see more extreme rainfall events and the resulting flooding that usually accompanies the heavy rains. And we can also expect to see even more sewage overflows, and that is one thing that can become a serious health hazard.
More about sewage overflow, heavy downpours, Climate change, aging infrastructure, Health
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