News Briefs: Trespasser Opens Valves at WWTP, Releases 400,000 Gallons

Also in this week's water and wastewater news, bottled water company Crystal Geyser is fined $5 million for illegal storage and transportation of arsenic

An unknown trespasser recently broke into a wastewater treatment plant in Fife Lake, Michigan, and released hundreds of thousands of gallons of wastewater.

The suspect opened two sewer valves and activated a pump that discharged treated effluent that the facility normally would spray on irrigation fields or store in a pond or lagoon.

Plant operator Ray Ravafy tells the Traverse City Record Eagle “this is a real mess.”

Approximately 432,000 gallons of effluent was spilled over the course of 18 hours, and some of it drained into a nearby wetland. But officials say the majority likely seeped into the ground at the site of the spill and is not expected to have contaminated the city’s water supply.

Minnesota Governor Unveils $300 Million Infrastructure Plan

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has announced a $300 million plan to fix aging infrastructure and upgrade water treatment plants throughout the state pending legislative approval. It’s part of a larger $2 billion borrowing proposal by the governor.

According to the StarTribune, Walz recently took a tour of stormwater tunnels in Minneapolis to get an idea of what municipal workers have to deal with every day.

“There’s been generations of investment in infrastructure,” Walz tells reporters. “This stuff is 100 years old in many cases. It’s not going to get cheaper to do it. We’re in a position in the state where we have the capacity to do it, and these are the things that each generation needs to invest in. I think that’s why it’s important to get out here, see these projects firsthand, put that information out to the public so they understand.”

Bottled Water Company Fined for Illegal Storage of Arsenic

The bottled water company Crystal Geyser — owned by parent company CG Roxane LLC — recently pleaded guilty to illegally storing and transporting hazardous waste, agreeing to pay a $5 million fine.

Prosecutors say the company filtered naturally occurring arsenic out of its spring water to meet federal standards. But they also back-flushed their sand filters with sodium hydroxide solution as a part of maintenance procedures and have been discharging the resulting arsenic-contaminated wastewater into what the company calls “the arsenic pond” for the past 15 years.

Sampling in 2013 by local and state water quality officials, along with testing by the company itself, found elevated arsenic levels.

The company was ordered to remove the pond, but two hired companies failed to label 23,000 gallons of the transported wastewater as hazardous, and it ended up in a southern California sewer without proper treatment.

Lewes' Treatment Mishaps Related to Failed Turbidity Meter

In other news, the city of Lewes, Delaware, is beginning to figure out what went wrong at its wastewater treatment plant that caused the recent and highly publicized release of 5 million gallons of partially treated effluent.

Officials say the problem was related to failed turbidity meters. A plant malfunction Dec. 18 forced the plants operators to bypass the treatment process — originally thought to be a minor problem. But the wastewater ended up clogging all the facility’s filters and took the plant offline for about 10 days.


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