Heavy rains blamed for 2 wastewater spills

Published 5:34 pm Thursday, September 22, 2016

About 6,000 gallons of untreated wastewater spilled into Washington waterways this week in two separate incidents, according to Adam Waters, the city’s water-resources supervisor.

Waters, in a brief interview Thursday, said the spills are the direct result of heavy rainfall this week, which, at times, caused significant flooding in areas of the city.

The first incident happened Monday when an estimated 5,000 gallons of untreated wastewater spilled from a pump station on Springs Road. The spill made its way into a ditch that connects to Cherry Run Creek, part of the Tar-Pamlico River Basin.

The second spill affected Jack’s Creek on Wednesday. The spill occurred at the intersection of East Fifth and Harvey streets, according to city officials. The creek empties into the Tar-Pamlico River Basin.

“It was during that rainfall (Wednesday). We found it about 2:15 (p.m.),” Waters said of the Wednesday spill.

The North Carolina Division of Water Quality, notified of the first spill Tuesday and the second spill Wednesday, is reviewing the spills, Waters said.

“During heavy rainfall events, and we call these situations sanitary sewer overflows, they do happen and do occur when the hydraulic capacities of the lines are overwhelmed,” said David May, DWQ’s water quality regional supervisor based in Washington. “The press release that is required to be performed by the City of Washington, part of the intent there is to provide that notification to the public so it is made aware of the situation so they can exercise precautions and exercise good judgment through that increased awareness.”

May said DWQ will maintain communication with the city about any ongoing conditions regarding operation if its wastewater system. “As for as any immediate action, we will be monitoring the situation for any adverse impacts or effects,” he said.

Aside from the two spills, May said, DWQ will keep watch for “any increased runoff from stormwater and other areas coming into surface water bodies” because there are pollution sources other than overwhelmed sewer lines that can adversely affect water quality of waterways like Jack’s Creek. “Stormwater and other things can carry … potentially harmful contaminants. Just in general, we’ll be monitoring the overall conditions. We recommend to people that they exercise precaution with any water-based activities they might have,” May said.

That monitoring of possible contaminants is important, he said. “It all poses a potential health concern,” May noted.

State law requires cities, towns, industries, animal operations and others who operate waste-handling systems to issue news releases when a wastewater spill of 1,000 gallons occurs or when any amount of wastewater reaches surface waters such as creeks, rivers and lakes.


About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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