When it comes to Mother Nature and flooding, recent history has taught us just how quickly water can overflow banks and pose major problems for wastewater and water treatment plants. With the last hurricanes, flooding has become a major concern – particularly flash flooding. Drinking water and wastewater treatment plants are typically the most vulnerable to flooding and therefore should be a top priority when major storms come knocking on our door. It’s a fact that flooding is one of the most common hazards in the U.S. Learn how flood-proofing wastewater treatment plants help eliminate many hazards for safety and peace of mind.
Flooding Hazards at Wastewater Treatment Plants
The impact flooding can have on a community is huge. When water treatment plant flooding occurs, it’s usually from tropical storms, swollen rivers, tidal surges, levee or dam failure, spring snowmelt, and more, which affects residents and businesses. Loss of power, asset damage, and dangerous conditions for personnel have large impacts on wastewater and drinking water facilities. Excessive flooding affects water treatment plants in many ways.
As storms become more frequent, depending on seasonal conditions and rising sea levels, you will see an increase in flooding conditions. According to the United Nations, flooding is the most widespread disaster in the United States, only second to wildfires. In fact, 90 percent of natural disasters are flood-related. These severe-related events continue to be an on-going challenge moving forward. Ensuring you have a flood resilience plan (the ability of wastewater and water facilities to withstand a flooding situation, reduce damage, and quickly recover from services disruptions) is crucial.
A wastewater treatment plant is most at risk for flooding when it’s in low-lying areas near the bodies of water for which it discharges its final effluent and enables gravity-fed collection systems. Pump stations, where head differential is insufficient for flow, is included in some systems and increases the likelihood of flooding. If components are in areas vulnerable to flooding, designing them for submersible use is a good idea.
Accidents Will Happen
Still, even the best-laid plans sometimes fail, as evidenced by the West Point Treatment facility that sustained an accident, causing a staggering dumping of 235 million gallons of untreated water in 2017 into a nearby body of water. Thirty million gallons of that water contained raw sewage, with hundreds of tons of partially treated solids dumped into Puget Sound in Washington. The flood endangered orcas, as well as threatened fish species. The accident also put the employees at risk and violated environmental standards, resulting in a fine of over $360,000.
This time, the accident wasn’t due to weather but to maintenance error. However, even though a flood wasn’t the culprit, it could be the next time. Ensuring regular wastewater treatment plant maintenance checks is vital – before a weather or accident-related event occurs. Saving money is great, but if the products are ineffective or problematic, is it worth it? Sometimes, you get what you pay for, and in this instance, an inexpensive switch resulted in compromised worker safety.
Flood-Proofing Wastewater Treatment Plants
It’s true that many wastewater treatment plants take recommended preventative measures to protect against flooding. Some of these measures include:
- Creating an emergency response plan
- Elevating electrical equipment and essential systems and equipment
- Having emergency generators ready to go
These measures are great, but FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) recommends dry flood-proofing, which involves constructing flood barriers or shields around individual pieces of equipment or areas containing essential equipment. For optimal effectiveness, the barrier must be high enough to protect critical equipment. Strong and sealed barriers that resist flood forces and control leakage and infiltration is another vital requirement. Dry floodproofing must also meet all applicable codes and standards.
For effective mitigation of flood-proofing wastewater treatment plants, the protection of all mechanical and electrical systems, including data systems, such as servers, switches, and network hubs should be installed above flood levels. Ensure elevators function in a flood by elevating them or by using flood-proof materials for components. Adding controls that prevent elevator cabs from descending into floodwaters also helps reduce flood damage and long-term loss of function.
Call ATS Innova After Flooding Occurs
After flooding occurs, there are a variety of challenges to face. Being proactive includes flood-proofing wastewater treatment plants, which help reduce bacteria growth, unpleasant smells, and risks that compromise safety. At ATS Innova, we listen to your concerns and will assess your plant, focusing on key areas where we can help. Please, give us a call at 855.215.4600, for a FREE plant walkthrough, and allow us to improve life…one drop at a time.
Sources: FLOOD RESILIENCE: A Basic Guide for Water and Wastewater Utilities: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-08/documents/flood_resilience_guide.pdf
The Human Cost of Weather-Related Disasters: https://www.unisdr.org/archive/46793
United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR)