Watchdog Group: Owens Cross Roads sewage treatment plant pumped fecal coliform into Flint River

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A watchdog group, the Flint River Conservation Association, says they found fecal coliform in the Flint River near the Owens Cross Roads sewage treatment plant.

Fecal coliform is bacteria from feces. The Flint River Conservation Association’s Soos Weber elaborates,"The solids were being removed. But it still didn't remove the bacteria. And normally bacteria is treated using chlorine. It wasn't being used here."

They say the contamination only stopped when they reported it to state authorities.

The first big clue they got was the smell. Weber says a fellow member of the group almost passed out from it when they came to collect proof in October 2016.

She details a process of taking three samples from around the sewage treatment facility, which they put in petri dishes following protocol she says Alabama Water Watch laid out for her.

Weber tells us, "I came out here on October 7th and tested the water and found out it was completely polluted with fecal coliform from humans."

Weber submitted the results of her tests to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM).

Meanwhile, Weber says the Flint River festered with feces, "This water flows south and then makes the turn at Hobbs Island and then goes to the water treatment plant, which is our drinking water."

ADEM records reflect the complaint registered. They show an investigation in late November. They show the complaint closed in January. No other actions are mentioned.

Weber says, "This is where citizens need to be extremely active. Because I complained on the 11th of October after I took the samples on the 7th. You have to call and call and call and make sure those complaints are being paid attention."

Weber notes her group came back around the same time ADEM says they tested.

The watchdog group's second set of samples came back clean.

When we pressed the town of Owens Cross Roads for answers, the mayor responded with a letter.

It says ADEM reached out to them, and that they were "actively working to identify the source of the problem and provide solutions to the concern." The letter is dated two months after clean tests came back.

It does say the town is currently within fecal coliform limits.The statement from Owens Cross Roads also says a new block grant and a secondary source of treatment should reduce the flow at the treatment facility in question.

As for the group that found all this, they say they're shorthanded.

Weber pleads, "I can't emphasize enough that we don't have enough people on rivers and streams in their yards -- in their backyards -- or in their community doing testing. I'm the only one doing it on the Flint River, and it's over seventy miles long and 564 square miles watershed. We need to have more volunteers."