25 million gallons of raw sewage overflows at Howard Co. plant - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

25 million gallons of raw sewage overflows into river at Howard County treatment plant

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The sewage treatment plant that serves the vast majority of homes in Howard County, Md. is now back in operation. But tens of millions of gallons of raw sewage was discharged into the Little Patuxent River before electricity was restored to the plant.

Officials in Howard County call this complex their "water reclamation" plant because after sewage is treated, the water is clean enough to discharge into the Little Patuxent River.

It takes an immense amount of electricity to run the sewage treatment facility, so it is supplied by two different electrical feeder lines, one underground (near the plant), and another that comes across the river.

During the storm on Monday, the underground line failed around 8 p.m. Then the above-ground line was knocked down by falling trees around 10:40 p.m.

The plant does have a large backup generator, but it's designed only for keeping things running for 15 to 30 minutes. So, for about 12 hours, raw sewage was dumped into the river at the rate of approximately two million gallons an hour.

BGE workers arrived here around dawn Tuesday - far later than county officials expected.

Ken Ulman (D), the Howard County Executive, told reporters, "I made it clear directly to the President of BGE two days ago that this was our number one priority, [and] made it clear again this morning. Unfortunately, crews were not dispatched to assess the situation until this morning about 6:30."

Because of the complicated nature of sewage treatment, it will take days to fully restore the process here.

"We're moving hydraulically all of the product through the plant," explained Stephen Gerwin, Chief of the Howard County Bureau of Utilities. "Getting the plant to perform at 100 percent is going to take about 4 to 5 days because it's a biological process that's pretty upset right now. But we'll get things working better and better as days go on."

Reporters asked: "So does that mean that some of the stuff that's going into the river is still untreated?"

"It's treated to 95 percent of the standard. We'll probably make permit [standards]," Gerwin answered.

Because of the volume of rain dumped into the Little Patuxent River, county officials believe the 25 million gallon sewage discharge is not a health hazard; they do recommend against wading in the river for the next few days.

A spokesman for BGE told us it was trees down causing the failure of both feeder lines. The underground line, they say, was fed aerially at some point, and a tree came down there. Because of the overnight winds, the utility says it was unable to put linemen in the air (in bucket trucks). Thus, the 12-hour outage.

The county executive is dissatisfied. He wants an after-action report with a plan to minimize future outages at the water treatment facility.


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