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Power failure at Columbia Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant leads to untreated sewage in Flathead River

C Falls sewage
Posted at 4:10 PM, Aug 16, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-17 10:20:00-04

COLUMBIA FALLS - A major power failure at the Columbia Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant on Monday led to untreated raw sewage being discharged into the Flathead River.

Columbia Falls Public Works Director Chris Hanley said quick thinking helped mitigate the problem or the situation could’ve been much worse.

“At this point we really don’t know because that’s a big breaker and for something like that to melt down the way it did, we’re still investigating that,” said Hanley.

An 800 AMP main breaker blew at the Columbia Falls Wastewater Treatment Plant on Monday allowing untreated sewage water to discharge into the Flathead River.

“It’s raw sewage without the solids basically is what it is, I mean it’s sewage without solids, it’s your nitrates your phosphorous stuff like that,” added Hanley.

Hanley said an electrician was able to find a temporary part in town for the main breaker, stopping the flow of untreated sewage into the river by 12 p.m. on Tuesday.

“You know they took out the breaker that was burnt out and were able to splice in power, we were thinking it was going to be the backup generator but looking at it more closely this morning they determined that they could actually get it hooked back up to Flathead Electric power which is even better for us,” said Hanley.

Thanks to an excess sewage storage container, Hanley said raw untreated sewage only discharged into the river for a few hours.

“It was minimal, and I was glad these guys were able to get it back up and running as soon as they did.”

He said it’s unknown at this time how much sewage was discharged into the river.

The city is working with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Out of caution, he advises those on the water to avoid swimming in the area directly under the sewage plant about a mile-and-a-half west of the old red bridge.

“Maybe through the day just to be safe, maybe through the day you know, and honestly, I don’t even think if you’re floating by, I don’t think anything would be wrong with that either, but you know definitely I wouldn’t swim necessarily right below our treatment plant, but I think after today you’d be good,” said Hanley.