GARDINER — An estimated 50,000 gallons of raw sewage poured into the Umpqua River over the weekend after the sewer line that connects Gardiner with Reedsport broke.
The Gardiner Sanitary District shut off the line, and sewage is being re-routed through a temporary pipe.
“It was a significant spill,” said Alex Manderson, a shell fish specialist at the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “Fifty thousand gallons of raw sewage is a lot. But apparently the leak was taking place over a day or two, and the volume of water going through there does dilute it down a little.”
As a precaution, Manderson asked local oyster farmers to delay harvesting for a few days. He said the other fish should not be affected.
Recreational river users should practice basic sanitation, he said.
The broken line carries Gardiner’s sewage beneath the Umpqua River to the Reedsport sewage treatment plant. This is not the first time it has broken.
“They know the pipe is old and needs to be replaced,” said John Gasik, a water quality specialist at the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. “It is old and in bad condition.”
The line was built in the late 1960s, said Ray Davenport, the Gardiner Sanitary District’s manager. It is buried about 10 feet beneath the river bed, which is shallow for current standards, Gasik said.
The sanitary district is working on a proposal to build its own sewage treatment plant in a lagoon owned by International Paper, thus negating the need for a new line to Reedsport. But progress has been slow. If Gardiner cannot build its own treatment facility, it will need to replace the line to Reedsport, burying it deeper beneath the river bed, Gasik said.
Jackie Degman, the sanitary district’s chairwoman, was not available to speak Wednesday afternoon.
Orca Divers Industrial Diving and Marine Construction, in Winchester Bay, will head out Thursday morning to repair the old pipe. Workers will locate the break by pressurizing the line and watching for bubbles at the surface, said Roger Hermansen, Orca Divers’ owner.
Divers will then follow the bubbles to the pipe and assess the damage.
“Then, depending on what we find will determine how it is fixed,” Hermansen said. “If it is just a hole in the pipe itself, it will be a couple hours. Anything else, we’ll have to take one step at a time.”
Gardiner’s sewage is currently flowing through an abandoned water line that also runs beneath the Umpqua between Reedsport and Gardiner.
The DEQ required Gardiner to establish an alternative sewer route last year in case of an emergency.
Sanitary personnel discovered the leak Monday, Gasik said. They believe it began about 1 p.m. Sunday.
Reporter Jessie Higgins can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 240, or firstname.lastname@example.org.