Contaminated flood water risk raises concerns for Memphis residents after intersection overflows

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shadyac and Third Street near St. Jude filled up with flooding Wednesday as the water started to rise with the rainfall.

But just what was in that water is under investigation by the city.

“I just kept watching the water climb to about cover the wheels and came up to the center console of the car. I tried, and I started freaking out,” says Marko Radic, who was caught in floodwaters Wednesday. “The seats were covered. I was sitting in water basically.”

The City of Memphis says this happens when there is heavy rain, and even before the downpour the City Public Works Director said they were on the lookout more for drains clogged with debris.

“Low lying underpasses or areas where small amounts of debris typically accumulates and causes flooding,” said Memphis Public Works director Robert Knecht during a press briefing early Wednesday.

But WREG cameras saw more than water in the area shortly after the rain. What appeared to be paper that was floating in the water ended up stuck on bushes as the water receded.

We asked the city if it was sewage water. They initially said there was no sewage discharge.

But Thursday morning, we again saw the paper and what appeared to be plastic was still there. City crews were checking it out.

The city is under a 2012 consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Clean Waters Network to minimize the number of sanitary sewer overflows. The consent says because of deteriorating pipes and clogged sewers, Memphis could experience line stoppages that in turn result in sanitary sewer overflows.   

Over 10 years, from 2012 to 2022, the city was expected to spend approximately $250 million dollars to make changes.

We went back to Knecht, who declined our request for an on-camera interview, but through a spokesperson, sent a statement:

“This sanitary sewer overflow was due to the significant amount of rainfall that happened downtown. Storm water can get into the sewer system by infiltration or inflow causing overflows. This issue is an aspect of the City of Memphis Consent Decree and Public Works/SARP10 is working on a solutions to this.”

For people who came in contact with what may have been sewer water, there are no answers from the city about what they’ve been exposed to, or what they need to do about it.

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