Harbor Pollution Mystery Partially Solved

Trying to figure out why water in the harbor was black, smelly, and covered with a grain-like substance, the Memphis Sewer Dept., the Memphis Storm Water office, and the Division of Water Pollution Control all took a look.

The results:

* Raw sewage was ruled out as the cause of the "smelly, black water."
* Bunge Corp. was issued a Notice of Violation for blowing grain "dust" off barges into the water and told to modify the process to prevent the problem in the future.

Here's a letter from Terry Templeton at the Division of Water Pollution to paddler Elmore Holmes that gives more detailed information.

Mr. Holmes,

On November 6 the Memphis Sewer Department received a complaint about the same situation you emailed me about on 12/3/08. The sewer personnel collected a fecal coliform sample on 11/7. The result of 110 col/100 ml seemed to rule out raw sewage as a cause of the dark water in the Wolf River Lagoon. The Memphis Storm Water office inspected the area again on 12/3/08 and did not find a source of the dark water. Field readings of the water indicated a pH of 7, which is normal, and a dissolved oxygen of 3.97 mg/l, which is low.

After we received your email we contacted the city Storm Water program who informed us that they and the sewer department had already been to the area. Because the Wolf River Lagoon has no outlet on the north end, we believe decomposition of organic material in the water, together with stagnant and slack water conditions, contributed to the dark water.

Personnel from my office inspected the nearby Cargill and Bunge facilities on 12/11/08. The dark water appeared to be significantly improved at that time. Bunge Corp. was found to be using an unacceptable practice that allowed grain "dust" that accumulates on the barges to be blown into the water. On 12/18/08 we issued a Notice of Violation to Bunge requiring that they modify their practice and prevent material from being blown into the water.

Thank you again for contacting us.