Sewage overflows at Savage plant

Rain considered a factor in 330,000-gallon spill

investigation continuing

January 07, 2003|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Heavy rain late New Year's Day prompted a 330,000-gallon sewage overflow at Howard County's Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant in Savage, officials reported yesterday.

The spill in the Little Patuxent River next to the plant had no lasting effect on water quality, mainly because of the heavy water flow in the river, said Daniel Ward, a process-control engineer at the plant.

Ward said the specific cause of the spill has not been determined, but the county is investigating. The plant has been undergoing a $56 million enlargement that is designed to increase capacity from 18 million to 25 million gallons a day by December next year.

Ward and Robert M. Beringer, the county's chief of utilities, said workers at the plant saw water levels rising and summoned supervisors before the overflow began at 9:45 p.m. It continued for about two hours.

"The evening shift ran into problems trying to process water into flow-equalization tanks," Beringer said. These holding tanks, 60 feet in diameter, are used as a buffer between the flows entering the plant and the processing tanks where biological organisms help purify the water, Beringer said.

Although the plant workers increased the flow from the holding tanks to help compensate for the higher levels of water entering them, the tanks overflowed.

National Weather Service figures show that 1.68 inches of rain fell at Baltimore-Washington International Airport that day, and Ward said the river flow was high - at 80 million gallons a day. The untreated overflow mixture was about two-thirds storm water, Beringer said.

Ward said samples of plant water taken Friday showed coliform bacteria levels within normal plant standards, and roughly one-fifth of the normal bacteria levels of the river.

The spill, he said, amounted to about 0.4 percent of the river's flow.

A spill at the plant is unusual, Beringer said, and county workers searched Friday for open manhole covers upriver that might have allowed storm water to flood the sewer lines into the plant. They found none.

They plan to insert television cameras into the affected tanks and the pipes connecting them to determine whether an obstruction is restricting the flow from the tanks, or whether the pipes - installed as part of the construction project - are the correct size.

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