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Power Restored at Savage Wastewater Facility

20 to 25 million gallons of wastewater entered Little Patuxent during the power outage that began Monday night.

 

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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Geoff Morgan October 30, 2012 at 07:46 PM
I agree with Mr. Gould. It appears to me that the county bears a responsibility equivalent to that of BGE. If the sewage treatment plant was the county's primary responsibility during the power outage, than the plant is a mission critical county asset that should have a more robust back-up power plan. There are plenty of mission critical operations out there that depend on power for the safety and security of our communities i.e., hospitals, communications infrastructure, that can sustain themselves indefinitely during a primary power outage event. Mr Ulman and the powers that be that oversee important public facilities like this must bear responsibility for what has happened, but more importantly, learn from it and invest in more sustainable solutions. Unfortunately, the environment and our residents have borne the brunt of this disaster.
Mr. Logical October 30, 2012 at 10:16 PM
Man, if I would've know that was going to happen, I wouldn't have had all that Chinese food yesterday. Sorry everyone.
MG42 October 31, 2012 at 01:29 AM
True, this is the county government's problem and not BGE's, but its important to remember that, at least according to Ulman, that the environmental impact was small. So maybe this isn't a very critical facility (unlike a hospital where hundreds do deaths would occur if power was lost).
Jack October 31, 2012 at 03:19 AM
"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." I wonder if it ever occured to him to cut the trees away from the lines befor there was an issue? Probably not as he was busy trying to take away our vote and other issues like the useless property he bought on Daisey rd or the harrassment of the hardware store in Clarksville.

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