A muddy situation has been cleared up at Lake Mitchell.
During the Wednesday storm that brought about 2 inches of rain to the city, a lift station on the southwest corner of the lake, near North Ohlman Street and South Harmon Drive, received significant water intake. In the same area, at least two homeowners encountered sewage backup flooding in the basement of their homes.
On Thursday morning, the Lake Mitchell bay, which is split by North Ohlman Street, had muddy and discolored water flowing through the drainage system, sparking concerns that sewage backup was to blame for the water discoloration. However, Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson said the issues were unrelated.
"This bay catches all of the drainage from nearby agriculture and livestock runoff, and decayed vegetation has a lot to do with the coloring of the water," Everson said Friday in an interview with The Daily Republic. "We're trying to eliminate the runoff that works its way into the lake through that bay with some of the watershed efforts."
Lift stations have pumps that move wastewater, which flows into a tank and gets pumped out to the sewer lines throughout the city. Due to melting snow combined with the heavy rain throughout the two-day weather system, the high volume of water intake caused the lift station on South Harmon Drive and North Ohlman to overload, which resulted in technical difficulties, Everson said.
"Because of the heavy amount of water flowing through the lift station, the box that has an alert system in it failed to alert the city crews of the water overload," he said. "I've never seen a rain and snow melt like this in all of the years I've lived in South Dakota, so it's understandable how the lift stations were having complications."
In response to the lift station malfunction, city crews were assisted by a local plumbing company, manually pumping wastewater from the station and releasing it into a nearby city-owned manhole.
Everson said roughly 30,000 gallons of sewage wastewater was pumped between the two crews attending to the lift station.
According to Public Works Director Kyle Croce, several lift stations throughout the city were facing similar problems, prompting a swarm of city crews to work until midnight, along with making sure nearby storm drains were cleared of ice and snow.
"We had to use all of our trucks and additional pumps to keep up with everything during the storm and snow melt," Croce said. "A lot of the sump pumps were pumping into the sanitary lines during the storm."
Croce applauded city crews and nearby residents for working together through the extreme elements.
"They've been doing a great job, and I just want to thank all of the residents for working together and being patient with our crews until we get to all of the areas that need work," he said.
Bob Mueller, a Mitchell resident living at 99 S. Harmon Dr., owns one of the homes directly impacted by the flooding.
"We had to get rid of the sewage backup and water, and we will have to do some repair work now," Mueller said.
For homeowners who believe they've had their property damaged at the fault of the city, residents can contact the city of Mitchell's Human Resources Department and file a claim with the city insuror. The link for accessing a claim form can be found on the city of Mitchell's website.
Improving the drainage systems along Lake Mitchell is something the city is working to address with the recently approved land purchase agreement that will be used to create a wetland. Since the $4.1 million land purchase, Everson said revelations of a nearby drain tile has been adding more water drainage into Firesteel Creek, which in turn affects the lake's drainage system.
"We've been in talks with the James River Watershed Development regarding a plan to install a retainage area near the drain tile, which will help with the water flow during heavy rain storms," Everson said.
Along with helping alleviate water drainage into the lake, Everson said nearby landowners who own cattle near the West End Bridge where Firesteel Creek begins have agreed with the city to eliminate grazing to help the lake's water quality. With plans to plant cattails in the wetland combined with cattle farmers agreeing to restrict grazing, Everson hopes the runoff that's causing the discolored water heading into the lake will be significantly reduced.
"The wetland project is multi-faceted, and it's much more than cleaning the watershed," Everson said. "We're trying to find ways to avoid drainage problems and flooding with it, too."