- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
In the midst of an improvement project that has proved a hurdle for its wastewater treatment plant by partially incapacitating it, the Town of Chesapeake Beach reported a solids loss into the Chesapeake Bay last week, and several area beaches remain closed.
About 200,000 gallons of overflow have been released into the Chesapeake Bay, Jay Apperson, a spokesperson for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said Monday. The most recent previous spill, which occurred April 30 after heavy rainfall, added up to 2 million gallons, Apperson said at the time.
The cause of Thursday’s evening spill, which lasted from 9:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., according to a press release, has been attributed to heavy rainfall during a period of three days coupled with the Enhanced Nutrient Removal construction currently underway.
Between Memorial Day and Labor Day, state regulations mandate that the release of untreated sewage requires the closure of beaches until testing verifies that the bacterial count in the water is at a safe level, health officer of the Calvert County Health Department Dr. Laurence Polsky said in an email. For this reason, North Beach, Windward Keys Beach, Chesapeake Station Beach and Bay Front Park/Brownies Beach have been closed to wading and swimming until further notice, according to information Polsky provided Friday afternoon.
All of these beaches, as well as Breezy Point, remain closed, Polsky said in an email Monday. Test samples taken by the health department Friday revealed potentially harmful bacteria in the northern beaches. Results for retesting being done Monday should be available Wednesday morning, Polsky said, and if at that time the bacterial levels are down to a safe level, the beaches will be reopened.
Accidental swallowing of the bay or tidal water in the area could lead to serious illness, the information states. Children are particularly susceptible to bacterial illness that can result from untreated sewage.
Now, warning signs have been posted at access points to the beaches, and local businesses have been notified, Polsky wrote.
On Monday, Polsky wrote that the department is not aware of anyone having become sick from the water, but the concern is the possibility of intestinal illness from accidental swallowing of the water in the area.
“Ingestion of bacteria may result in symptoms ranging from mild stomach pains and diarrhea to severe illness requiring hospitalization,” he wrote.
In addition, Polsky said, people should realize that nearby creeks are tidal and that bay water goes into these creeks, meaning people should avoid contact with them, as well. In the event that a person does have any contact with this water, he or she should wash thoroughly with soap before eating or drinking.
Until the department has determined that the potentially harmful bacteria has cleared, they should not eat seafood harvested from the surrounding waters.
The plant endured three consecutive days of rain, the plant’s superintendant, Jon Castro, said: about 2 inches Tuesday, a half an inch Wednesday and about 2 inches Thursday. This excess water is what overwhelmed the plant and caused the overflow.
At the time of the April 30 overflow, Polsky emphasized that the water supplies of Calvert County residents who get their water from wells were unaffected and that residents do not need to worry about contamination from the overflow into the Chesapeake Bay.
The wastewater treatment plant experienced the Thursday solids loss into its effluent discharge line, which normally funnels the treated water into the Chesapeake Bay, according to the release.
Acknowledging that the plant currently is limited in its capacity as a result of the construction, which has rendered “a couple of tanks out of service,” Castro said the plant’s crew hopes to end the “critical period” of the construction within the next couple of months. Once three oxidation ditches are repaired and two clarifiers are built, the risk of future spills will decrease.
“We’re working as hard and as fast as we possibly can to do it,” he said.
At Chesapeake Beach’s May town council meeting, Mayor Bruce Wahl elected to release electronic alerts via text message and email to residents who sign up after resident Joe Johnson urged the council to do more to alert residents of spills.
Johnson said in an email Friday that the alerts worked, and he received one at 11:30 a.m. Friday from the health department.
The ENR upgrade construction is meant to significantly reduce the amount of harmful nutrients that are discharged from the plant into the Chesapeake Bay, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus, Apperson said at the time of the April 30 release. These pollutants act as fertilizer in the bay, creating “algae blooms,” or the rapid growth of algae. When the algae dies, it consumes the oxygen needed by other aquatic life.
The project includes the construction of enhanced nutrient filters, new solids and handling facilities and new chemical storage facilities, Castro said.
The project began in June 2013 and is expected to be completed June 9, 2016, Apperson said.
Also, once the construction is completed, Castro said, the plant, which now uses water at the highest rate of any facility in the town, will have developed a system to recycle its own wastewater to use within the plant.
“We’re trying to upgrade the plant for better treatment and to be able to handle different surges into the plant when the project is completed,” Castro said. “It’s something that we have to go through and get through it until the new tanks and things are built. Once this is complete, everything should be fine.”