County Executive Ken Ulman said 20 to 25 million gallons of wastewater entered the Little Patuxent River in Savage after the county's wastewater plant's two electricity feeders lost power Monday night during Hurricane Sandy.
The Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant lost power at 11 p.m. on Monday and wastewater continued to enter the river until 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday, according to Ulman. Once power was restored, the plant was no longer releasing wastewater into the river, according to county officials at the plant on Tuesday.
“This is a very serious issue,” said Ulman, standing on top of one of the wastewater tanks next to the river. “We need to work with BGE to get more reliable power here.”
He pointed across the river to a woodsy area where trees had fallen on low hanging power lines that were strung across the river and attached to the wastewater plant.
Ulman said the county notified BGE of the problem immediately after it happened and told the power company that getting power back to the plant was the county’s number one priority.
“The lines went out in two separate locations as a result of fallen trees,” said Rob Gould, spokesperson for BGE. “Due to the weather, it wasn’t safe to put the manpower or the bucket trucks in there to restore power. We worked as quickly as we could.”
Gould said the president of BGE and Ulman talked several times about the problem.
“There’s two separate lines, there’s redundancy, so it’s unusual both lines would go out,” said Gould.
Officials said the plant has backup generators, but they only last approximately 15 minutes, because the plant takes a significant amount of power to operate.
Gould said the county might want to consider getting more effective generators.
Ulman said the wastewater entering the river “is not a major health concern at this time” because actual waste made up less than 1 percent of the fluid that entered the river.
Stephen Gerwin, Howard County utilities bureau chief, said that once the feeders lost power, wastewater entering the plant through a sewage pipe started shooting out of a manhole cover that sits next to the river, rather than being fed into holding tanks. On Tuesday afternoon, after power was restored, a Caterpillar tractor was sitting on the manhole cover holding it down.
At the plant, Ulman stressed that the county’s drinking water supply is completely separate from the wastewater supply and that there is no fear of contamination.
As for the wastewater that already entered the river, Ulman said, “The good thing is that it was so diluted because of so much rainwater [from Hurricane Sandy].”
The plant handles about 56 percent of the county's wastewater from the towns of Columbia, Savage and North Laurel, according to the county's website.
James Irvin, director of public works, said the plant sits next to the Little Patuxent River in Savage because that's the lowest point in the county and sewage must go downhill to drain to the plant.
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