By MELINDA WILLIAMS
When heavy rain and other weather events cause waterways to rise it’s not uncommon to hear of or witness the extreme efforts that go into saving lives and property.
But for those who struggle to maintain the status quo behind the scenes, the public rarely hears of their efforts. Among those are the employees of Pepper’s Ferry Regional Wastewater Authority.
The Authority’s Board of Directors was informed in February of the “extraordinary efforts of all Authority employees” during the late January flooding that resulted in extreme, and in some cases record, flows into the facility.
“Operating wastewater pumping and treatment facilities during ‘normal’ conditions is a sophisticated process that requires staff to perform near 100 percent constantly, but to operate the facilities under the sustained extreme conditions experienced in January was no small achievement,” Executive Director Clarke Wallcraft stated in a memo to the Board of Directors.
According to Wallcraft, waste and storm water average daily flows into the plant during a four-day period in January reached 10.25 million gallons per day (MGD) – an increase of 277 percent over the average daily flows for December. He said the event also showed the plant has the ability to operate 14 percent above its design capacity for a sustained period of time.
As a matter of fact, he said, a peak flow rate of 23.5 MGD occurred at the New River pump station during that time. Superintendent Mac McCutchan said that is the highest flow ever recorded, but “it didn’t last a long time.”
He pointed out MGD figures do not represent the amount of flow occurring at the plant at one specific time, but rather is the amount of flow that would be recorded over a 24-hour period if the flow remained at a specific level for 24 hours.
To reach a flow of 23.5 MGD, he said, about 16,319 gallons per minute were flowing through the pump station.
During the January event, Wallcraft said staff had to plow snow to get to facilities and deal with intermittent equipment and commercial power failures during periods of peak flow, in addition to their regular duties.
“Through all of the adversities faced by the employees during this extreme weather and flow event, no flows were lost at any of the Authorities facilities,” Wallcraft said. “All flows were treated, disinfected and discharged, and all flows were in full compliance with the permit limitations under which the Authority must operate.”