Failed pump leads to Mettowee River discharge
A failed pump and the actions taken to compensate for that failure led to the discharge of an estimated 25,000 gallons of incompletely treated water into the Mettowee River from the Granville village wastewater treatment plant on July 28.
Department of Environmental Conservation officials have not said what penalty Granville might face for the discharge, accidental or not.
DEC Region 5 spokesman Dave Winchell said in an e-mail: “The Granville Waste Water Treatment Plant did have a release of untreated sewage beginning between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Tuesday, July 28. Initial reports indicate that approximately 25,000 gallons of sewage was released into the Mettowee River over a period of several hours.
“The release reportedly resulted from a pump failure that upset the plant’s treatment process preventing the full treatment of solids. The effluent from the plant returned to normal that evening. DEC is investigating the release to determine the details of the incident and any possible violations of environmental law or regulation.”
Environmental conservation officer Ben Bramlage said the matter remains under investigation and it was too early to comment on the specifics of the case.
“We’re hoping to have this completed from our end in 10 to 14 days. We’re waiting for some information from treatment plant right now,” Bramlage said last Thursday. Another report is pending on a river water matter.
The investigation into a reported contaminant in the Mettowee River from early June has yet to be completed, he said. Asked if the two were related, he said: “I don’t know if it is or is not, but they’re not directly connected. I can say that.”
Hoping to avoid confusion, Bramlage said he could clarify that what came out of the treatment plant was not raw sewage, although it was described by Winchell as “untreated sewage.”
“No, we’re not talking about raw sewage here,” he said.
Bramlage also declined to comment on the potential outcome of the matter for the village.
“There is not a typical result; each is unique, and you have to look at the entire set of circumstances. I can’t comment on that; in time will have answers for all of this but it’s simply too early to say,” he said.
Bramlage said the heavy rains that came a little more than 24 hours after the discharge probably helped the river by flushing out anything left behind by the discharge and the higher volume of water would dilute anything put into the river.
“That’s what’s so hard with all of this – it was not raw sewage – we did not meet our permit limits, so this is a terminology thing. What left here is not a health hazard; it is a water quality issue,” Granville wastewater treatment supervisor Dan Williams said Thursday.
Williams said Wednesday morning the as yet unexplained failure of a filter pump during a routine operation at the plant led him to attempt to remedy the issue, but only succeeded in making it worse.
“The (sewer treatment plant) upgrades are going good; yesterday went very bad,” Williams said referring to ongoing work for the second phase of the wastewater treatment plant. That upgrade could have prevented this very problem from occurring, Williams said.
The upgrade includes installation of a large disc-shaped rotating and self-cleaning filters that could have held back the additional solids, which instead made their way into the river. The “trickling filter” pump stopped working during the pumping of accumulated solids from the bottom of a “final clarifying” tank, something that takes place about twice each day, Williams said.
When the water became cloudy and he discovered the pump had stopped working, Williams said, he attempted to rectify the situation by using external gas-powered pumps to move larger amounts of water back to the beginning of the treatment plant. The increased flow from those pumps, however, stirred up the entire plant, making the situation worse, he said.
When it became clear the discharge from the plant would be in violation of his operating permit, Williams said, he called the DEC to report the matter.
“I made a huge mess; everything I tried to make the problem less made the problem worse,” Williams said. Williams said the plant’s operating permit says the effluent from the plant must have less than 30 mg / liter of suspended solids. “We were way over that,” he said.
Williams said he wanted to emphasize that the material that was discharged was not raw sewage or completely untreated wastewater.
“No, none of it was raw sewer water,” he said. Asked what the problem did to the discharged water, he said, “It clouded up the water all the way to beyond Middle Granville, I mean cloudy — as in black.”
The estimated amount of discharge could be compared to a large round above-ground swimming pool, which could hold more than 35,000 gallons of water.
Williams said he noticed the problem with the trickling filter pump about 10 a.m. and reported the matter to the DEC at 11 a.m.
Bramlage and Vince Spadaro, a wastewater treatment plant inspector out of the Warrensburg office of the DEC, came to the plant after he reported the discharge, Williams said.
Both men from DEC were at the plant until dark, Williams said. “(They) both agreed we did everything in our power to fix the problem; we did everything we were supposed to do,” he said.
Williams said DEC officials had not been certain what would be done about the violation of the operating permit but said it could be noted as non-compliance up to a fine.
“They were unsure what the office in Albany will do,” he said.
Williams said he had not received any calls reporting the discharge of the water, water he said would have been unmistakably dark in color. Later when he spoke with inspectors from the DEC, Williams said, they reported receiving no phone calls.
Asked what he might do different next time, Williams said, “Well, I wouldn’t try to use bypass pumps to try to get things back around.”