TRAVERSE CITY — Grand Traverse County officials issued a health alert for anyone who used the city’s new water attraction after a sewer backup routed toilet water into the splash pad.
City officials discovered Sunday morning that sewage backed up into the Clinch Park splash pad’s reservoir as five or six children played in and around a waterscape feature that opened last week. County officials extended the health warning for anyone who used the splash pad on either Saturday or Sunday.
The water feature’s installer, Jason Hobson of Lightning Turtle Landscape, arrived within about 20 minutes after the sewer backup was discovered. He noticed water in the reservoir was cloudy, tinted, and contained floating debris.
“My first thought was vandalism because there was no smell,” he said. “That’s because it went into 2,000 gallons of chlorinated water.”
The backup resulted from a failed pump that tripped a circuit breaker at an Open Space pump station. The tripped circuit also knocked out a pump failure alarm.
City officials didn’t learn about the sewer backup until a city employee saw sewage bubbling up from a manhole cover on Sunday at about 10:30 a.m.
”He obviously knew it was a problem and contacted us right away,” said Casey Rose, project manager for CH2M HILL, the contracted operator of the city’s sewage plant and pump stations.
The pump failure allowed sewage water to flow through a pipe intended to funnel overflow water from the splash pad reservoir into the sewer system.
Rose said there’s no way to know when the pump failed. Officials also don’t know how much sewage water entered the reservoir, though he estimated the total amount of lost sewage at less than 2,000 gallons.
CH2M HILL crews and city workers cleaned and disinfected the contaminated area and the splash pad system. Rose said no sewage seeped into Grand Traverse Bay.
The splash pad cost an estimated $360,000 and is part of a larger $2.6 million renovation project at Clinch Park.
Brett Davis, a landscape architect for Hamilton Anderson Associates, the firm contracted to design the Clinch Park renovations and splash pad, said the overflow system included a p-trap, a plumbing fixture that prevents sewer gases from moving up a plumping system, but not any backflow prevention devices. Crews will soon install two of those in the splash pad water system.
Davis would not say why the original plumbing design lacked backflow protections.
”Hindsight being what it is, all I want to say now is we are looking to rectify that issue and get that water fixture back up as soon as possible,” Davis said.
Mayor Michael Estes said he went to Clinch Park Sunday afternoon when he heard about the problem.
“Everybody responded almost immediately, despite the fact it happened on a Sunday morning,” Estes said. “I’m pretty impressed.”
Estes said Monday he was unaware there were children playing in the splash pad at the time. Nor did he know there may have been a flaw in the system’s design. But he said city staffers are clear that the water feature is to remain closed until officials are sure what caused the problem and how to prevent another occurrence.
Tom Buss, director of environmental health for the Grand Traverse County Health Department, on Monday afternoon said there were no known hospitalizations or illnesses as a result of the sewage backup.
Buss said anyone who may have been exposed to contaminated water should take a thorough shower and report any gastrointestinal illness symptoms or signs of infections to their doctors.