Pump malfunction results in wastewater release near Columbia lift station

Tuesday, July 27, 2010 | 8:32 p.m. CDT; updated 10:33 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 27, 2010
One of two manholes, pictured, alongside S. Rock Quarry Road between East Gans Road and East Nifong Boulevard in south Columbia released an estimated 1,000 gallons of wastewater into a tributary of Clear Creek on Monday, July 26.

COLUMBIA — It's like when someone puts a kink in a water hose, except this is sewage.

A lift station pump, part of Columbia's wastewater treatment infrastructure, released an estimated 1,000 gallons of wastewater into the Clear Creek stream near the lift station at the intersection of Rock Quarry and East Gans roads on Monday morning. Lift stations contain a collection of pumps and valves to carry wastewater up hills. The problem was resolved Tuesday morning.

Wastewater is "pretty much everything you flush down your toilet," said Larry Archer, spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources.

Because of the recent storms, one of the two main pumps at the lift station overheated. This forced the remaining pump to work twice as hard to keep the wastewater and storm water going through the system.

When the second pump couldn't handle the water, the pressure pushed it out of the manholes near the lift station on Rock Quarry Road. A manhole is a point of access for sanitation crews to perform repairs on the pipes carrying waste underground.

The faulty pump at the lift station was restarted Tuesday morning, relieving the pressure and continuing normal flow in the pumps.

Building pressure in the pumps is a common problem. The combination of storm water and mechanical malfunction are probably two of the common causes of wastewater overflow, Archer said.

"Our investigators were there yesterday," he said. "They take samples at the point where the overflow entered the stream, downstream, and upstream so they have a feel for how the water tests before it's affected by the wastewater and get a feel for how far downstream it traveled."

Archer said that only "solid materials can be cleaned up," meaning liquid materials would be carried downstream.

Nevertheless, Archer said "there's perhaps not as big of an impact on the environment because you have the mixture of stormwater and wastewater," therefore diluting the waste.

There is no connection between the wastewater overflow and residents' drinking water.

In order to prevent overflow from happening, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources recommends that communities develop a tracking system to document overflow incidents that can be used to aid in developing a plan to inspect the system and finance upgrades. The expansion of a wastewater system is contingent upon the size of a town.

"It's important that people know that a city doesn't really grow and expand if it doesn't have the means to treat wastewater," he said.

Archer encourages residents to understand the value of the wastewater infrastructure.

"It's one of the few infrastructure types that we spend a lot of money on and proceed to bury and hide, out of sight, out of mind," he said.

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