OLEAN — Nearly a year after a high-profile discharge of untreated wastewater flowed into the Allegheny River from the city’s sewer system, another discharge of more than a quarter-million gallons was reported.
At 9:49 a.m. Wednesday, a state Sewage Pollution Right to Know Act notification was sent out through the state’s NYAlert system stating approximately 330,000 gallons of untreated wastewater was discharged into the Allegheny River over the previous 21.5 hours.
In response to the discharge, the Allegany Fire Department reported the Allegany boat launch has been closed until further notice.
The source of the discharge was the Fourth Street pump station, which pushes wastewater to the city’s treatment plant through a 3-foot line. The line carries about 75 percent of the city’s wastewater — upward of 9 million gallons a day during storm events.
“This was actually a radio communications failure,” said city Department of Public Works Director Bob Ring.
A brief power outage in the neighborhood Tuesday morning caused the pump to go offline, which needed to be restarted by hand.
“The radio communication system did not come back on, and we caught it in the morning checks,” he said, as the city sends a worker around daily to check on the status of the pump stations.
The station is the same one which discharged roughly 200,000 gallons of untreated wastewater into the river on Aug. 17, 2018. That loss was attributed to heavy rains and a four-hour power outage at the station.
The Common Council in September OK’d emergency generators for the station and a second station, at a cost of around $100,000. Due to regular timetables for planning, engineering and bidding of projects, the generators are set to be installed in the next few weeks.
However, “we think the generators would have not stopped that bypass,” he said, with the radio still going offline due to the power loss.
“Normally we could be — and would be — there in a few minutes,” Ring said, with automated phone calls to wastewater operators in the off hours being relatively common. “We only have a few minutes before sewage backs up into the pump house and is bypassed into the river — as opposed to backing up into basements.
The one piece of good news, Ring said, is the outage and bypass coincided with dry weather for the most part.
By comparison, the four-hour outage in August 2018 occurred during a heavy rainstorm, leading to a similar-size discharge in less than a fifth of the time.
Moving forward, Ring said he has planned several meetings with staff to determine the exact cause of the radio failure, as well as finding ways to create redundancy in the radio system to avoid failures in the future.
“There’s a lot of questions that need answering,” Ring said.
Mayor Bill Aiello said a meeting was held Wednesday afternoon, and further discussions are slated for a staff meeting of department heads on Friday and for other meetings in the near future.
(Contact reporter-editor Bob Clark at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)