It is impossible to point a finger at a single reason that 1 million gallons of raw sewage leaked into Fishing Creek over the weekend of Dec. 8. In many ways, the incident resembled the perfect storm.
The problem started when a pump malfunctioned at the Wildcat Creek pump station on Robertson Road near South Pointe High School, one of 22 such stations scattered across the city. Ordinarily, a backup pump would have kicked in, but in this case, the pump failure coincided with a power outage at the station.
With no electricity coming into the station, the alarm that tips off utility supervisors to breakdowns failed to sound, and the leakage went unnoticed for hours. It wasn't discovered until the following Monday, when crews quickly repaired it.
Although the extent of damage to the creek and its environs has not been completely calculated, a small number of fish were killed and farmers downstream as far away as Chester County were advised not to water their cattle in Fishing Creek, which is fed by Wildcat Creek.
Farther south, the creek pools up in Lando at the dam that once powered Manetta Mills. This is a common swimming hole, but thankfully, weather conditions prohibited any swimming this time of year.
Utility workers are puzzled as to why it took residents so long to alert them to the spill. Neighbors eventually reported smelling a foul odor, but that was after the problem had been discovered on Monday.
The utilities department dodged a fine from the state Department of Health and Environmental Control because crews acted according to protocol after the leak was discovered. DHEC officials no doubt agreed that this was a freak occurrence.
But while no one is specifically to blame for this mishap, the city clearly needs to take steps to prevent it from happening again. A backup generator for the alarm system would be a good start.
City officials might also send out a message to residents throughout the area who live near local creeks to alert the utilities department if they see -- or smell -- anything suspicious. An early warning from a neighbor could have limited the Wildcat Creek spill.
Chances of another occurrence like that may be slim, but it's best to be on guard.
Wildcat Creek spill was a freak accident, but city needs a more reliable alarm.