I-Team: 500,000 gallons of raw sewage spills, some into Las Vegas creek, after equipment failure

I-Team

Lift station to undergo $40M rehab project

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — The Clark County Water Reclamation District’s largest lift station, a facility that pumps raw sewage from neighborhoods toward a treatment plant, failed last year, spilling an estimated half-million gallons of wastewater, some of which ended up in a creek that feeds Lake Mead.

The Whitney Lift Station is one of 24 similar facilities in the reclamation district’s portfolio. The district is responsible for transporting all sewage in unincorporated Clark County, the largest jurisdiction in the Las Vegas Valley.

The station, which is on the east side, sits next to a creek, which feeds the Las Vegas Wash and eventually Lake Mead.

The I-Team learned the details of the spill, received photos of its aftermath and read emails from staff as part of a public records request.

In January 2020, a pipe at the lift station failed. Raw sewage spewed and pooled for about 14 hours at a rate of nearly 600 gallons per minute.

Teams were able to catch about 300,000 gallons of the raw sewage, sucking it up with special vacuums. The rest seeped into the ground. An estimated 10,000 gallons went into the creek.

To put the entire spill into perspective, 500,000 gallons is almost enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The district handles 100 million gallons a day.

The spill was blamed on a corroded underground pipe.

The station, which is on the east side, sits next to a creek, which feeds the Las Vegas Wash and eventually Lake Mead. (KLAS)

In an agenda item earlier this year, the board of trustees for the district, which is the same body as the Clark County Commission, described the station as “the largest and most critical lift station in our service area in terms of capacity, location, engineering hydraulic requirements and necessary operational efficiencies.”

At the time, staff for the trustees wrote, “The Whitney Lift Station 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 I-Team wanted to know why a lift station, which had a massive failure, was next to the creek.

“This is where it’s needed. This is how the area’s been developed,” CCWRD general counsel David Stoft said. “As wastewater collects, it must use gravity to drain. Whether we like it or not, we are dealing with a situation where a lift station has to be here.”

According to Clark County documents, the county is looking to spend $40 million to rehabilitate the lift station. Several pieces of the project have already been approved. (KLAS)

The current lift station is the replacement for the first Whitney Lift Station, which was put online in the 1970s. The current station was built around 2000.

Old maps show the sewage station surrounded by gravel pits and empty space until homes crept eastward in the 1980s and 1990s.

According to Clark County documents, the county is looking to spend $40 million to rehabilitate the lift station. Several pieces of the project have already been approved.

“It was a significant incident for us,” Stoft said about the spill in 2020. The I-Team had asked to speak with leaders at the district but was referred to Stoft. “Every spill, every incident we have we try to learn from. And we learn a little bit more about the facilities that we have. And that gives us a better idea of the improvements we might need to make to those facilities moving forward.”

The I-Team looked at years’ worth of sewage discharge incidents provided by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. The Whitney spill is the largest by far. After each incident, NDEP can issue a fine depending on its investigation.

According to a Clark County ordinance, the county is supposed to also issue fines when an “illicit discharge” affects or “impairs water quality.” When the I-Team asked if the county had fined the district for the spill, we were directed back to the reclamation district.

Clark County’s water quality program, which would fine the district, reports to the district. The program’s offices are in the district’s headquarters, too.

Due to this structure, a spokesperson for the county said when it comes to fining itself, the issue is handed up to NDEP as the regulatory agency.

Officials with NDEP said nearly two years after the spill, it had not determined whether to levy a fine against the reclamation district.

The district requested 8 News Now not identify the lift station’s exact location, citing homeland security laws.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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