LAS VEGAS (AP) — A big southern Nevada sewage pumping facility failed last year, spewing an estimated 500,000 gallons of wastewater and leaking into a creek that leads toward the Lake Mead reservoir on the Colorado River, a television station investigation found.
Officials want to spend $40 million to rehabilitate the Clark County Water Reclamation District wastewater lift station, where the January 2020 spill was blamed on a corroded underground pipe, KLAS-TV in Las Vegas reported.
Most of the spilled sewage was vacuumed up from land outside the Whitney Lift Station, KLAS-TV reported after reviewing documents, photos and emails obtained with a public records request.
But an estimated 10,000 gallons (37,853 liters) — about enough water to fill an average kidney-shaped backyard swimming pool — went into a nearby creek that feeds the Las Vegas Wash. The wash flows to Lake Mead, the drought-stricken reservoir that provides about 90% of the Las Vegas-area drinking water supply.
The Whitney Lift Station is one of 24 similar facilities operated by the reclamation district, which was formed in 1956 to reclaim wastewater from unincorporated Clark County, the largest jurisdiction in the Las Vegas area.
The district treats nearly 106 million gallons (482 million liters) of wastewater per day from almost 246,000 residential and commercial account holders collected through 2,275 miles (3,661 kilometers) of sewer lines, according to its website.
Lift stations are used to pump to a higher elevation wastewater from home and commercial sewers, along with business and industrial chemicals, oils and other contaminants.
District general counsel David Stoft told KLAS-TV that gravity dictated that the Whitney facility needed to be built near a creek because as wastewater collects, it needs gravity to drain.
“Whether we like it or not, we are dealing with a situation where a lift station has to be here,” Stoft said.
Clark County commissioners, serving as reclamation district trustees, were told in written material the Whitney station is “the largest and most critical lift station” in the district “in terms of capacity, location, engineering hydraulic requirements and necessary operational efficiencies.”
The elected lawmakers were told it has experienced “frequent outages due to equipment failures and line blockages putting the 22-year-old facility at high risk of sanitary sewer overflows.”
The first Whitney Lift Station was put online in the 1970s. Old maps show it surrounded by gravel pits and empty space until homes were built nearby in the 1980s and 1990s. The current station was built around 2000.
The district requested KLAS-TV not identify the exact location, citing homeland security laws.
The Whitney spill was the largest by far found in a review of years’ worth of sewage discharge incidents provided by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, the TV station said.
County law calls for fines when an “illicit discharge” affects or “impairs water quality.”
But KLAS-TV said Clark County’s water quality office reports to the reclamation district.
A county representative said the investigation was turned over to state environmental protection regulators, who said no determination had been made, nearly two years after the spill, about whether to levy a fine against the reclamation district.