Chattanooga: Sewers pushed to limit after heavy rainfall

Chattanooga: Sewers pushed to limit after heavy rainfall

January 9th, 2009 by Cliff Hightower in Local Regional News

Walking through the Moccasin Bend Treatment Plant Thursday morning, looking at the amount of water in the plant's sewage basins, Jerry Stewart saw a divine hand.

"These are the kinds of things that God shows you can't out-design him," said Mr. Stewart, director of Chattanooga's waste resources management.

Heavy rain over the last three days has left the Moccasin Bend Treatment Plant discharging 226 million gallons of water a day, which is peak capacity, he said. The wastewater treatment plant normally discharges about 70 million gallons of water a day, he said.

Two 70-million-gallon sewage basins were 14 feet deep in water Thursday. They're usually about 8 feet deep, Mr. Stewart said.

For days, crews from waste resources management were called all over the city to handle sewage backups and overflows, he said. On Thursday, city crews were busy handling cleanup as the rain went away and blue skies opened up.

BY THE NUMBERS

226 million - Gallons of water the Moccasin Bend Wastewater Treatment Plan now is releasing daily

70 million - Gallons of water normally discharged

14 - Feet of water now in the plant's basins

8 - Normal water level, in feet, at the plant's basins

Source: Chattanooga Division of Waste Resources

Mr. Stewart said it has been years since he has seen this much rain enter the sewage system. The city has 1,200 miles of sewer system, and about 70 miles combines both sewer and storm water, he said.

With stormwater drains, creeks and roadways filling with rainwater runoff Thursday, city employees closely monitored the city's sewers. David Griffith, a plant operator, sat in the control room at the Moccasin Bend Treatment Plant making sure the city's 96 pump stations operated correctly.

Despite the deluge, there have been no major malfunctions, he said.

"Just a lot of water," he said.

Luther Bibbs, a pump station operator, was under the south parking lot of Finley Stadium checking a pump station that serves as a treatment center for sewer and storm water. He started working with the city in February, and this is "the most water I've seen since I've been here," he said. "It's overwhelming for me to see so much water."

Mr. Stewart said the waste resources division has seen some sewer problems it did not anticipate over the last few days, such as joints separating between manholes along streets in Orchard Knob. Water came out of the joints and bubbled up through manholes into open fields, he said.

The department will move to correct the problems, he said, and within the next few weeks officials plan to go before the City Council to request hiring a consultant who could provide a computer simulation of such wet-weather events.