Anne Arundel County (AACo) Department of Public Works Meeting

October 29, 2013

Restore Rock Creek is one of Koolhof Earth’s active projects. We sponsor the watershed steward and support the entire organization as an integral part of our work to deliver sustainable environmental restoration in your community. It is our intention to share information as we all work to restore this creek to health. To do this, we need to have a good understanding of the facts.

Rock Creek is served by Anne Arundel County (AACo) Department of Public Works’ sewer system on its northwest side and private septic systems to the southeast. As you can imagine, AACo has numerous pumping stations positioned along the creek to get sewage up and over the hill to the Cox Creek Treatment Facility a few miles away.

Koolhof Earth, Restore Rock Creek and Chesterfield Community Association (another group we are working with) representatives met with officials from the Department of Public Works, specifically Mr. Dave Watts and Mr. Jim Dipietro, in the company of Ms. Nancy Schrum (Councilman Fink’s Assistant) to talk about the entire sewer system serving the Rock Creek drainage area.

First, let me say the to managers we met with were totally dedicated and professional. I am reassured they are doing the job we expect to not only move our waste, but to do it with all possible environmental care.

AACo presents challenges to any plan to implement a sewer system as most of our population lives near the water (sewers are typically gravity fed). AACo has 425 miles of shoreline!! So, AACo must move a lot of sewage uphill to treat it. This is why we have pumping stations in our creek and others all around the county.

We came away from this session learning there is a lot of folklore and too little fact. For example, did you know:

  • Rock Creek’s pumping stations do not have overflow pipes installed
  • AACo does not design overflow mechanisms into its pumping stations?
  • Many pumping stations have back up generators installed?
  • Every station has at least two power supplies leading to it?
  • Pumping stations are designed for the flow they accept with a large excess capacity to avoid spills?
  • AACo has a SCADA system installed to control the whole system remotely from a 24/7 command center (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SCADA)?

I could go on. AACo has long lead the way for Maryland while other jurisdictions have lagged behind. AACo is proud to reinvest a significant amount of their operating budget into renewing its infrastructure each and every year. This kind of proactive thinking was surprising to me after hearing countless stories from longtime residents on the creek — horror stories of spills and overflows. Apparently, not at all true (at least in the last 15 – 20 years).

This not to say there are not spills. One recent spill occurred in our area near Chauser Court in the Chesterfield community (an estimated 425 gallons spilled as a result of root intrusion into the sewer pipe). The spill site was cleaned up and inspected and temporary repairs were made then and there. Additionally, the site was added to a more extensive program AACo has to identify and correct issues before they become major problems. This site is slated for permanent repair soon.

The mere presence of pumping stations at the edge of Rock Creek conjures fear and concern for the environment. AACo officials assured us that each pumping station was designed to collect effluent sufficient to avoid spillage in the event of a power outage, and that portable generators were available to each station (stations that do not have permanently installed back-up generators). The county went on to say the dry wells (into which sewage flows before being pumped uphill) are designed with enough capacity to permit time for deployment of generators. None-the-less, these dry wells will fill up given enough time.

Finally, this though deserved to be treated separately from all the other did you knows…

Did you know that AACo faces consequences for spills just like industry does when they spill contaminants into the environment? I didn’t.

AACo falls under Maryland Department of the Environment’s permit for discharges. When spill occur, AACo must pay Maryland who handles the EPA liaison for Maryland counties. So, it is not true they escape penalties for spills.

That said, AACo has a very low spillage rate – a record they work hard to maintain.

 

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