Unusual weather patterns putting strain on municipalities

Aug. 1, 2013

The industry must be proactive to help customers, businesses, city officials and especially municipalities to become aware of ways to prepare for emergencies.

With the way our climate is changing, there is no reason not to continue to suspect the same unusual weather patterns that have ravaged the coasts as well as the Midwest states over the past several years. Tornados, flooding and hurricanes not only destroy lives directly, but they indirectly can cause just as much damage on municipalities. When strong storms hit treatment plants, causing them to have failures, it harms the entire community that treatment plant serves. For that reason it’s important to get out in front of this matter to help customers, businesses, city officials and especially municipalities to become aware of ways to prepare for such emergencies.

Superstorm Sandy

It has been almost one year since Superstorm Sandy plowed through the upper part of the east coast, destroying houses, flooding cities and causing turmoil. Yet, nine months later New Jersey’s largest wastewater treatment plant is still seeking help to not only repair damage from Superstorm Sandy, but to prepare for the next one.

Sandy caused overflows and discharges for many municipalities, which as a result led to boil water alerts for many residents, and some even went without water for a long period of time.

A story ran in WaterTech eNews Daily after the storm noted that partially treated sewage was running into nearby waterways, thus contaminating the drinking water. Several other stories like this were reported soon after the storm, which further proves how important it is for municipalities to prepare for such events.

The Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission, which runs New Jersey’s largest sewage treatment plant, wants to prepare for future storms by moving crucial equipment to higher ground, building a flood wall around its perimeter and by installing its own power generation plant. While these are very ambitious — and costly — projects for a huge facility, they are strategies to be considered for municipalities in risk areas.


Far too often are stories written about overflows and discharges at wastewater treatment plants caused from heavy rains and flooding. These discharges can do a lot of harm to a community’s water supply and oftentimes can cause failures at treatment plants, which can lead to even more contamination issues.

In 1994, the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin installed a deep tunnel system to help prevent these types of problems. Just recently it was reported that these tunnels had help stop around 50 combined sewer overflows to waterways.

The story notes that, "there were no combined sewer overflows to local rivers and Lake Michigan in 2012, and the tunnels never filled to capacity during any of the storms."

Again, these changes may not be plausible for every town, but in areas that are constantly hit hard by heavy rains, digging deep tunnels to store stormwater and sewage could help save customers and municipalities from many problems.

Power outages

During heavy storms, power outages often occur and while many municipalities have backup generators to keep from having failures at the plant, there are still many cases where short spurts of power outages have led to problems at treatment plants.

In February, a story was reported out of Washington about a power outage at a pump stating where 18,000 gallons of wastewater overflowed near a beach before power could be restored to the plant. As a result of this failure at the plant, the town decided to install a permanent generator at the pump station to prevent this type of problem in the future.

The main theme throughout all of these stories is that it’s better to be prepared for these types of emergencies before they happen. It’s easy to have a desire to make a change after a problem has occurred, but instead we should be instructing customers, businesses, city officials and local municipalities on ways to be prepared before disaster strikes.

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