Apr 07, 2021

Maine's St. John River Floods, Attributed to Heavy Storm & Spring Melt

Untreated wastewater flooded Maine's St. John River during a heavy rainstorm

st. johns river

After a chunk of ice was wedged in a frozen Madawaska, Maine pipe, tens of thousands of gallons of untreated wastewater flooded into the St. John River during a Mar. 26 rainstorm, coinciding with spring melt.

According to Bangor Daily News, the chunk of ice backed up into the town’s main pumping station, flooding the structure and damaging the pumps inside.

Madawaska Pollution Control staff and volunteers returned the station to operation Mar. 27. Madawaska is one of 31 combined sewage overflow (CSO) communities in the state. Among those communities are the state’s largest population centers including Augusta, Bangor and Portland, reported Bangor Daily News.

According to town Manager Gary Picard, Madawaska put nearly $10 million of work into its sewage systems in the last 10 years to take its discharges from double to single digits, reported Bangor Daily News. Due to early ice flow on the river and the first heavy rainstorm that preceded the total thawing of the ground, Madawaska’s system was overwhelmed and heading toward a combined sewage overflow discharge before the ice blockage caused the backup.

According to DEP Regional Director for Northern Maine Bill Sheehan, under normal environmental circumstances, it is likely the high flow would never have made contact with a frozen pipe, reported Bangor Daily News.

“I think under a normal year we wouldn’t have the spring flow for a couple more weeks — typically it’s usually April that we have the ice outs,” said Sheehan. “Probably that pipe would have been thawed out and wouldn’t have had an ice block...It’s not something the town has experienced in the past.”

The American Society for Civil Engineers has ranked Maine’s overall sewage infrastructure a D+, attributed to outdated pipes and treatment plants and lack of preparedness for the effects of climate change. 

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