Charlotte, NC - Sewage spill reaches Catawba : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

Charlotte, NC - Sewage spill reaches Catawba Impact contained, but it's `a big one.These are the heartbreakers'

By BRUCE HENDERSON One of the state's largest sewage spills of the year spewed an estimated 3.7 million gallons of raw sewage, most of which reached a tributary of the Catawba River, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities said Monday.

The spill at an aging, unstaffed pump station in northwest Mecklenburg apparently happened sometime Saturday, when a power surge disabled an alarm system that warns when wastewater levels rise too high. Utilities staff didn't discover the spill until early Monday morning.

By that time, sewage had overflowed a manhole and into two tributaries of Long Creek. Utilities estimated 2.7 million gallons reached the creek, which is about 600 feet from the station and empties into the Catawba.

Workers erected temporary dams across the Long Creek tributaries to catch sewage and pump it back into the manhole. They flushed freshwater down the streams and disinfected the area.

No fish kills or stressed fish had been reported by late Monday. But water samples showed that pollutants had reached the Catawba. Conductivity levels, an indicator of organic solids in water, were higher than normal, environmental investigators said.

Levels of dissolved oxygen, necessary for fish and other aquatic life, measured 5.5parts per million in Long Creek and 6.3ppm, about normal, in the river. Readings of 4ppm and below spell trouble for fish.

Some impact might not appear until today as the sewage moves farther downstream, said Rusty Rozzelle of the Mecklenburg County Department of Environmental Protection.

"At this point, we don't think we have too much of a problem," Rozzelle said. "But we'll be back out there (today) and check it the rest of the week."

Nobody lives in the densely wooded land between the pump station and the Catawba, Utilities said. The station is on property owned by Clariant Corp., a specialty-chemical maker.

The utility department's major drinking-water intake is several miles upstream on Mountain Island Lake.

State officials said the spill ranks among the top five to 10 biggest of the year. The town Ahoskie in eastern North Carolina spilled 18.5 million gallons in January. Heavy rains sent 5.5 million gallons of mostly-treated sewage from a Gastonia treatment plant into Long Creek in March.

Mecklenburg environmental investigators will decide whether to recommend state fines for the spill, said state spokesman Ernie Seneca.

Utilities lost about 7 million gallons of sewage from spills, ruptures and overflows between mid-1998 and mid-1999.

"This is a big one, half of all last year in one shot," said spokesman Vic Simpson. "These are the heartbreakers."

The Long Creek pump station receives a gravity-fed flow of sewage, averaging 1.7 million gallons a day, from as far north as Huntersville. The station pumps it over a hill to another station in Paw Creek, which sends the sewage on to the McAlpine Creek treatment plant. Largely automated, the station is inspected each Monday and Friday.

The 26-year-old Long Creek station has been unreliable in the past, experiencing mechanical failures and other problems, and is scheduled to be replaced by a $16 million station in two or three years, Simpson said.

A backup pump, installed Friday, was not yet wired to automatically kick on as water levels rose. The station was rewired Monday so that the alarm triggers regardless of power surges.

The new station will be designed to contain rising sewage rather than spill it, said Earl Peigler, operations manager of wastewater collection.

-- Doris (, June 27, 2000

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