Minimal environmental impact from spill at Sandy Creek

Dec. 30, 2013 @ 08:06 PM

Heavy rain caused the Sandy Creek sewage pump station on Rock Mill Road to overflow Sunday, sending more than 7,500 gallons of raw sewage into the Tar-Pamlico River Basin.

The spill occurred from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. According to Tom Spain, director of the Henderson Water Reclamation Facility, it was part of an inundation that filled the creek and most likely diluted and mollified the harmful effects of the untreated wastewater.

“I don’t think there will be any death of aquatic life or any harm to human beings,” Spain said. “It was so diluted, as much water was coming down that creek.”

Spain estimated that the water runoff collected into Sandy Creek amassed to about 20 million gallons. The man-made facility is one potential contributor of sewage-type waste among several during a storm, he added.

Waste from trash, livestock and other sources were likely added, and were also likely expelled in an overall harmlessly diluted proportion, according to Spain.

“I don’t mean to make light of the situation, but the wastewater that came into the Sandy Creek pump station was probably 75 percent rain water to begin with,” he said.

The overflow caused what the wastewater treatment industry calls a bypass, caused by inflow and infiltration from the heavy rain, according to Spain. The volume of water exceeded the station’s pumping capacity.

Spain said that an illustration of how the added water compares to normal flows is seen in the reclamation facility’s rate of water use during the heavy downpour. Normally at 2 million gallons of daily flow, the rate jumped more than four-fold and would have equaled 9 million gallons if the deluge lasted the whole 24 hours.

Spain said that of greater concern, especially during summer months when some individuals may be tempted to take a swim, is how fast the creek gets during a heavy rain.

“I think Sandy has the most flow of any creek in our area,” Spain said. “It gets wide, and about 12 feet deep. Moving fast, it can be dangerous.”

The bypass problem is one factor behind a funded project to replace the Sandy Creek pump station with upgraded equipment.

“That’s going to be put in place within the next 12 months,” Spain said.

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