DEQ to look into Franklin collection system

Published 1:54 pm Saturday, September 27, 2014

After receiving the five-day letter from the City of Franklin following the Sept. 8 wastewater plant overflow, the Department of Environmental Quality Tidewater Region team’s compliance division will look into Franklin’s collection system, due to this being a reoccurring problem.

Often, when it rains 5 to 6 inches, the sewage plant will overflow and the outflow entering the river is no longer a clear slow flow. While Water Permit Manager Mark Sauer said the information received in the five-day letter would not indicate that there is a water quality issue due to the overflow, it’s also not part of normal operations. The letter is something that the DEQ requests of localities with permits following an environmental report, such as the spill that occurred earlier this month, and must be submitted within five days.

Sauer said that due to the old collection system in Franklin, when a sizable rainfall event occurs, more water seeps into the system than it can hold. While what does come out gets treated, Franklin’s wastewater staff has to go out of its way to add an additional process of adding chlorine and then de-chlorinating the biomass before releasing it into the river.

“The problems that can cause is if the plant is not taking proper actions, then you can have wastewater go out that is not fully disinfected,” he said. “They do watch the weather, and they do anticipate when it is coming so that they will have all of the proper chemicals on hand to disinfect when it does happen. But it is still better to try to prevent this than to try and address it when it happens.”

DEQ compliance staff will look into what Franklin has done to address the issue of the collection system, as well as plans for the future. Should Franklin not be doing enough, enforcement could enter the conversation to correct the situation.

Public Works Director Russ Pace said he is expecting a letter from DEQ concerning this issue, but that he doesn’t expect anything to come out of it. He said over the last 3-4 years, the City of Franklin has spent more than $1 million dollars on just the collection system.

Currently, Pace said, they are lining approximately 17,000 lineal feet of pipe, and they have just finished up lining 18,000 lineal feet. They’ve also coated old man holes to help address water seeping in.

It’s also something the city will continue to address, Pace said.

“There’s a lot of old pipe out there,” he said. “This is something we are going to have to be working on for the next 5, 6, maybe 7 years.”

Pace said it has been a number of years since they have raised the water and sewer rates, and it might be time to revisit that during the next budget cycle to help build up some money for capital projects such as improving the sewage collection system.

Sauer said it’s important to get it fixed because any substance going into the river that is not naturally there could be bad in ways other than the pathogens that the chlorination and de-chlorination process kills.

“The amount of solids could smother bottom-dwelling organisms as the material settles,” Sauer said. “Nutrients, non-hazardous organic compounds and other compounds in the material may temporarily alter the characteristics of the stream near the discharge. This may affect fish in the vicinity, or it may cause fish to avoid the area for a period of time. Avoidance by fish or wildlife of an area that has been temporarily altered is something that could be considered an impact.”

In the letter to DEQ, Plant Manager Donnie Cagle said he takes the health of the Blackwater River seriously.

“I would go as far as to say, the City of Franklin and the Wastewater Treatment Plant do as much, if not more, to promote the health of the Blackwater River as anyone does on a 24/7/365-basis,” he wrote. “We take the health and welfare of these incidents, as well as, the environmental impacts of such an event very seriously and strive to avoid their occurrence.”