Water Industry News

Letters allege records on sewage dumping were changed

Associated Press

Officials are reviewing operations of the Milwaukee sewerage district after an anonymous letter alleged water sampling reports were falsified to disguise how much human waste was going into Lake Michigan.

The unsigned letter dated Aug. 30 was sent to state and local officials. Another anonymous letter dated Aug. 28 alleged that the district was cutting corners in maintenance and procedures.

Both letters targeted United Waste Services, the company that operates the local sewage treatment plants and the deep tunnel system that is designed to hold excess sewage during times of heavy rains so that it can be treated later.

Kevin Shafer, executive director of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, said in a letter responding to the accusations that MMSD has "absolutely no knowledge of falsification of any document."

"We have taken a look at (the accusations) and we are confident they are false," Shafer told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an interview.

John Cheslik, the top United Water official in Milwaukee, said his firm did a preliminary review and found no evidence sampling records were falsified. United Water officials from outside Milwaukee are doing another review, he said.

"They are vague accusations," he said, adding that they "seem to lack credibility."

In his response letter, Shafer suggested disgruntled employees might be responsible for the unsigned letters.

The letter making the record falsification allegation is signed "outraged insiders."

Richard Abelson, executive director of District Council 48 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents some workers at the treatment plants, said he also received the letters containing the allegations but had discarded them because they were anonymous.

"Many of the allegations we have heard from members who work down there," Abelson said, declining to elaborate.

Shafer and Cheslik said strict procedures were in place for taking effluent samples at the treatment plants. But they acknowledged the system wasn't foolproof and depended on the honesty of sewage plant operators.

Meanwhile, Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager scheduled a news conference Friday in Milwaukee regarding MMSD.

The state Department of Natural Resources last month asked the state Justice Department to consider suing MMSD and the 28 communities it serves over the record dumping of untreated sewage in May.


Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com