Untreated wastewater escapes into streams

By Vicki Hyatt | Jan 24, 2013
Photo by: Mountaineer file photo Richland Creek near Charlie's Corner in Waynesville during high rains last week.

More than 1 million gallons of untreated wastewater in the Waynesville area entered Richland Creek following the heavy rains in the area last week.

Fred Baker, Waynesville’s public works director, said the system can handle rainfall levels of a quarter of an inch an hour, which is more typical of the storms experienced in the area. But the nearly 8 inches of rain that came in a four-day period proved to be too much too quickly.

An estimated 600,000-gallon spill occurred at the sanitary sewer manhole near Howell Mill Road and the railroad trestle over Richland Creek.

The spill started shortly after noon on Jan. 14, abated overnight, and increased Tuesday following heavy rains, flooding and high groundwater levels.

The overflow continued until at about 10 a.m. Jan. 20, which pegs the total duration of the spill at 120 hours.

There was another discharge from a manhole along N.C. 209 near Richland Creek and the county fairgrounds.

An estimated 400,000 gallons of untreated wastewater drained into the creek at this location. The discharge began around 2 pm. Jan. 14 and lasted about 100 hours.

A third discharge of about 100,000 gallons of untreated wastewater occurred at a manhole on Georgia Avenue at Hazelwood Town Hall. The spill began at about 2 p.m. Jan. 14 and lasted about 90 hours. Discharge from this spill entered Farmer Branch through a storm drain on Georgia Avenue.

Baker said in addition to the rain, there were a number of other entry points where water enters and overwhelms the system.

Water from sump pumps and gutters is  considered clean water and should not be hooked up to the sewer system, he stressed.

“There’s only three things that should go into the sewer. We call them the three ‘Ps,” he said, noting soluable paper is the third allowable item.

The town has been systematically upgrading sewer lines, but Baker notes this only includes the main lines, not the individual pipes on private property where the lines connect.

A main priority following a spill is to disinfect the area of the spill, which is done by raking up any debris that might have been in the sewage and spreading lime around the area to absorb the bacteria. The spill area should be avoided for at least 24 hours.

The impact on the waterway is not a long-term one, he said, because there the flow levei is so high that any contaminant levels are diluted significantly.

Wastewater spills in Waynesville are not common, he said, noting the last reported one was in July 2012, and before that, December 2011.

Baker said the public works crew is familiar with the low-lying areas that commonly flood and watch the sites closely.

If others notice seepage from a manhole, they can report it at 456-3706, or if after hours, call the after-hours police department number.