What's That Smell? 

River and harbor users would like to know.

The strange, smelly substance that darkened the Wolf River Harbor recently was apparently not an oil slick.

The unpleasant change in the harbor north of downtown was noticed by kayaker Elmore Holmes and others who use the waterway and the Mississippi River for recreation.

"Whatever happened happened a while before I noticed it," Holmes said. "Basically, the water is just black at the north end of the harbor."

He said it looked like an oil slick but smelled more like raw sewage. Last weekend, Holmes noticed a "bathtub ring" along the shoreline after the water level dropped. It appeared to contain a grain-like material.

"I then remembered a boater friend telling me a month or so ago that he saw workers at the Bunge plant dumping large quantities of a grain-like substance in the harbor," Holmes wrote in an e-mail to city officials and river users.

"I'm not sure how such a thing would turn the water black, but too much of anything can be harmful to a body of water," said Holmes, a woodworker who frequently uses the river for kayaking and canoeing.

Bunge Corp., located on North Second Street, is one of the commercial users of the harbor that is shared by barges and pleasure boats launched from Mud Island. The residential area of Mud Island backs up to the harbor, which has been littered with trash from storm sewer runoff. At low water, trash, odors, and pollutants are especially apparent.

Terry Templeton, manager of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, told Holmes that the substance probably was not oil, but the state and city are still investigating.

James H. Baker, project director for the Tennessee Water Sentinels and a kayaker and member of the Sierra Club, said the black water may indeed be related to grain elevators and the loading of grain onto barges.

The following are excerpts from his letter to Holmes and Templeton and local media:

"If the grain-like material (most likely soybean dust, as that is what is being harvested now) gets into water, it will decompose," Baker wrote. "The products of that decomposition will have a smell similar to raw sewage, and in enough quantity, the decomposition products will discolor water.

"I sincerely hope that grain elevator operators are not deliberately pushing the excess grain that settles on the decks of the barges overboard into Wolf River Harbor. As the author of the first City of Memphis storm water ordinance, I'd say that would be a clear violation. Deliberately pushing excess grain into the harbor would also violate any of these grain elevators' storm water permits that are issued by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

"On the other hand, there are a number of sanitary sewers in the area that may need to be checked to see if they are not leaking into Wolf River Harbor.

"Perhaps the environmental regulators should take some water and sediment samples in the vicinity of the grain elevators' loading platforms and test them. ... They should also consider testing the water column for dissolved oxygen and, just to make sure that raw sewage isn't involved, sample and test for E. coli as well.

"Like you, I'm endlessly fascinated by the Mississippi River's geography, geology and culture and the recreational and economic opportunities it affords to Memphis. A dirty riverfront will negatively impact Memphis' economy and its citizens."

Comments (4)

Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-4 of 4

Add a comment



Intermission Impossible

Looking for a Halloween Costume? Theatre Memphis is Having a Yard Sale.

Politics Beat Blog

C-SPAN's Coming!

Politics Beat Blog

Guns to Blast and the Stars and Bars to Fly Again in Bartlett

Fly On The Wall Blog

Bob Corker Has Tiny Feet And It's Funny When He Stamps Them

Music Blog

Rest in Peace Sports Junction


Friends of the Library Fall Book Sale

Hungry Memphis

Crosstown Arts to Open Cafe

Tiger Blue

AAC Picks: Week 8

Fly On The Wall Blog

George Perez: Cool Things About Memphis Comic Expo Part II


More by John Branston

  • Pyramid History 101

    Bass Pro should acknowledge the big pointy building’s backstory.
    • May 14, 2015
  • Let it Be

    What to do about the Fairgrounds? How about nothing?
    • Jan 29, 2015
  • Let’s Go, Shelby County Schools!

    Some suggestions for how the new Shelby County Schools system can hold its own in the years to come.
    • Aug 14, 2014
  • More »

Readers also liked…

© 1996-2016

Contemporary Media
460 Tennessee Street, 2nd Floor | Memphis, TN 38103
Visit our other sites: Memphis Magazine | Memphis Parent | Inside Memphis Business
Powered by Foundation