Cruddy cleanup: Craig’s wastewater plant backed up after system fried by lightning
City workers at Craig’s wastewater treatment plant arrived at work to find putrid poo up to the ceiling Monday morning after Mother Nature knocked out the plant’s electricity Sunday night.
According to city officials, a lighting strike at the treatment plant off West First Street caused a near total electric failure at the plant and crews will be spending the next several weeks trying to clean up the mess.
“It looks like at least three to four weeks before we get it back online,” said Craig City Manager Peter Brixius. “It’s not a pretty sight.”
On Thursday, Carl Ray, the city’s wastewater manager with about 16 years working at the city’s water division. Ray said the lightning strike completely fried the plant’s alarm communication protocols, so crews didn’t find there was a problem until Monday.
“When all those systems failed, the raw sewage filled up our basement where all those systems are and that’s how we found our building Monday morning,” Ray said.
Ray said the plant is now essentially running on diesel pumps and generators that use about 80 total gallons of diesel per day until they can clean and assess the electrical components that were covered in crap.
“We’ve got it pumped out and were cleaning it up and assessing the damage right now,” Ray said.
Tuesday night, Craig’s Water and Wastewater Director Mark Sollenberger broke the news to Craig City Council that insurance would likely cover some of the costs, but not for some time.
“It’s probably going to take us weeks if not months for us to recover from this,” Sollenberger said. “…It’s been a little bit of a nightmare.”
Sollenberger said the plant receives about 1 million gallons of raw sewage from city residents per day, meaning that once the city’s pump room filled up, the 36-inch line feeding the city started backing up toward homes and businesses in Craig.
“When the building filled up, we have a 36-inch pipe that feeds the plant,” Ray said. “That started backing up toward town.”
Ray and his crews acted quickly to hire two outside contractors — Action Services of Craig, which has been pumping out the city’s sludge which will go to a bio solids handling facility, and Rain For Rent of Rifle whose large rented pumps have been pumping poo in place of the city’s four main pumps, which are still offline. Ray estimated contractors pumped out several millions of gallons worth of backed-up sewage.
“We finally got caught back up Monday evening,” Ray said. “We had three pumps running and they probably, just guessing based on the flows, we probably had 2 million gallons of sewage that was backed up in various places.”
Ray said the city’s wastewater woes won’t wreck any resident’s water usage or quality, as city crews caught the problem in time.
“Fortunately, we were able to catch it and mitigate before folks had sewage back up in their homes,” Ray said.
Ray said there will be several additional alarm protocols installed with several layers of redundancy to prevent Monday’s backup from happening again, including the use of cellular text messages, emails, voice messages, and a dedicated landline with its own uninterrupted power supply.
“We’re going to be installing additional backup systems,” Ray said. “We already had redundancy, but we’ll install additional systems to notify us by different means.”
After more than a decade with the department, Ray said Monday’s sewage surprise was one of the worst he’s ever seen.
“It’s one of the worst events I’ve ever been through,” Ray said.
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