Omaha battles sewers as CWS kicks off
June 17th, 2011
Omaha, NE – Thousands of people are heading to Omaha today as the College World Series kicks off in a brand new downtown stadium. But rising waters from the nearby Missouri River, along with seeping sewage, is creeping up to the baseball stands.
“We’re just kinda setting these up… getting them in the right place,” said Ladd Lyons, as he lifted a plank of freshly spray-painted wood to fit along a corrugated steel bar. Lyons was building a makeshift bar at the Tailgate Tent, outside Omaha’s brand new baseball stadium: TD Ameritrade Park.
“We’re expecting record crowds,” said Steve Lindsey, standing under his food stand just a few yards away, outside the stadium’s front gates.
“I’m excited,” he said. “And when you look around, everything’s bright, shiny and new, and I think it’s going to be a great first experience in the new stadium. I’m happy.”
But the fresh start to the College World Series is not so fresh just a couple of blocks north, where dirty water is bubbling under the surface.
“Sunday afternoon around 4 o’clock was when we first noticed it,” said Les Bruning, Managing Partner at Hot Shops Art Center, standing by construction crews outside his shop. The crews were working to clean up overflowing sewage that came pouring out of the sewers earlier this week. “We had like gushing water… and at some point it was going clear across the street.”
While other communities along the rising Missouri are dealing with breached levees, Omaha is trying to keep the water away from its overflowing sewers: a problem made worse by the city’s antiquated combined sewer system. The city is currently dumping its untreated sewage into the river, and Bruning is seeing the effects on his business.
“It affects our business because people think they don’t want to get caught in a flood,” he said. “They don’t want to smell the sewer.”
The city’s also been battling pooling water downtown, and at Eppley Airfield. But Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle says the city is tackling the problems one by one, and will keep the water at bay.
“We owe a great deal of gratitude to Mayor Johnny Rosenblatt, and the city leaders in 1955, who built this levee on the Omaha side,” he said. “They built it very, very soundly. Now since then, we’ve been maintaining it, and that’s why our levee’s working for us.”
“We’re going to be prepared for any and all things,” he added. “Day to day.”
Back at the Tailgate Tent, even if there’s the occasional waft of sewage outside the stadium, Marketing Manager Stacy Leners says the games will go on.
“We’ll just have to keep plugging away, enjoy the games, and deal with the smell,” she laughed. “There’s not much you can do about that.”
This story was also featured on NPR’s Morning Edition.