1m gallons of wastewater spill into creek

Published 6:32 pm Tuesday, October 11, 2016

An estimated 1 million gallons of untreated wastewater spilled into Jack’s Creek in Washington this week — the result of a power outage and a sewer system inundated with runoff from Hurricane Matthew.

The overflow occurred at the pump station at Fifth and Respess streets on Sunday and Monday, in the aftermath of the storm. According to Adam Waters, superintendent of water resources for the city, the spill happened because of a combination of factors, starting with losing power at approximately 8:20 p.m. on Saturday, as Hurricane Matthew skirted up the North Carolina coast.

“When the power went out, we went to generator power on the lift stations. Sometime on the 9th, about 3 p.m. on the 9th, the generator failed, so we had no way of running the pumps,” Waters said. “What we did was carry a portable pump around to the site and hooked that up.”

The issue, however, was that the smaller pump could not keep up with the sheer amount of water in the system, Waters said.

“We kept it running, and we pumped whatever we could,” he said.

According to Pamlico-Tar riverkeeper Heather Jacobs Deck, this type of event is common during significant weather.

“It’s certainly not a surprise. The sewer lines are overwhelmed with all the water,” Deck said. “I’m sure there’s more that haven’t been reported yet. … Right now, we have an extraordinary amount of water, and we have to think about sewer lines that are under water.”

Deck said there have also been reports of spills in Elm City and the Town of Bailey.

Untreated wastewater flowing into the river is just one source of contamination during floods: septic tank systems, fuel and waste from animal industry located upstream are a few of the others, she said.

“So, there’s a lot. It’s sort of, I don’t really want to call it a toxic soup, but a reminder that that happens a lot during floodwaters,” Deck said. “Hopefully, first responders are paying attention to that. Obviously, those out there doing the rescues, wading through it — you don’t want them to get sick afterward.”

“I definitely would not recommend getting in the water, especially right now — even the spill aside — but with everything coming downstream. (The Jack’s Creek spill) just adds to it,” Waters said.

Waters said city employees are now working on repairing the downed generator, and the department has purchased a larger pump for use should something similar happen in the future. According to a press release from water resources, the North Carolina Division of Water Quality has been informed of the spill and is reviewing the matter.