The Impact of Hurricane Floods on Wastewater Treatment Plants
With two heavy-hitting hurricanes recently battering both Texas and Florida, wastewater treatment plants across the country can learn from what’s happening in these areas to prepare for the potential impact of flooding, storm surges, and other extreme weather on their own systems.
In addition to causing billions of dollars of damage from wind and rain, storm surges and flooding from hurricanes Harvey and Irma have wreaked havoc in cities and wastewater treatment plants along the coastlines. In Palm Beach, Florida, crews were out maintaining and repairing lift stations before, during and after the storm in an effort to keep the town up and running.1 In St. Petersburg and Orlando, Florida, 50o,000 gallons of untreated water flowed into streets and homes after Hurricane Irma.2 Pipelines in Florida are typically designed to handle twice the amount of water they are constructed for, but no system can handle the amounts of rain or storm surges from these types of weather events.
Meanwhile in Texas, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 40 out of 1,219 wastewater treatment plants in the Houston area are out of service due to Hurricane Harvey as of Monday, September 11. Contaminated flood waters in streets and homes continue to impact the area with high levels of E. Coli and other bacteria and toxins, creating unsafe environments and health risks as residents return to their homes.3
Wastewater treatment plants must be able to operate under any circumstance, so what can you do when storms are headed to your city? Fortunately, both the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have published flood and storm preparation guides that may help assess your cities current and future situation.
An Emergency Response Plan is the first step in preparing for a major weather event, as well as understanding potential threats and identifying vulnerable areas within the facility. The EPA’s Flood Resilience Guide is a great resource for preparing wastewater treatment plants for rising waters and takes you through a set of exercises to thoroughly evaluate your facility in order to put a plan in place. The Storm Preparation Guide provided by the FDEP is a great document to help understand the threat of storms and other extreme weather events and includes a handy checklist on planning, communications, training, staff coordination, staging and more.
Imminent weather can be daunting, but having a solid plan in place and knowing your facility has the pieces in place to handle such a situation can offer peace of mind and keep your city up and running during an emergency situation.
Image 1: National Guard searching flooded waters in Florida, courtesy of U.S. National Guard
Image 2: Flooding in Houston, August 31, 2017, courtesy of U.S. Army