Weather keeps city sewer stations pumped

Photo By Dave Boyd
Drainage problems caused high waters on Bemberg Street when heavy rains hit Elizabethton in the summer of 2001.

By Thomas Wilson
Pump stations used by the city of Elizabethton to discharge sanitary sewer water have had no loss of activity in recent months.
The city's seven sewer pump stations -- capable of churning out water by the millions of gallons -- are being overloaded by massive amounts of water filling the sewer system during extreme weather conditions, according to the city public works department.
"Our two main pump stations can pump more than 10 million gallons per day, and we are getting more than that during high water flows," said Johann Coetzee, the city's deputy director of public works. "That is why we are getting problems in the pump stations."
The city's seven sewer pump stations have been moving rapidly of late. Thunderstorms have dumped heavy rainfall on the area in recent days, sending torrents of water along side streets and water puddles accumulating in low-lying areas of the city. A National Weather Service report issued Wednesday found the Tri-Cities region has received 40.90 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1 -- a level more than 13 inches above normal.
City Director of Planning and Development David Ornduff said the city's drainage system could easily move most water except during extreme weather events. He also said development around the city had contributed to an increase in water flowing into the city's sanitary storm sewers.
The saturated ground also generated pressure on the city's aging in-ground water and sewer pipes causing additional water losses from leaks. "The groundwater table gets very high and we get leaks into our sewer system," said Coetzee.
He said the system had experienced problems with sewer pump stations being unable to handle massive water flow. While the rainfall had not caused serious damage to the sewer system's infrastructure, water/sewer department crews were spending significant overtime keeping pump stations operational during high flow situations. "We have had a lot of extra hours and extra effort to maintain pump stations," said Coetzee.
Water leakage from manhole covers and excess water from roof and basement drains of buildings also contributed to massive water flow into the system. He said groundwater was not intended to enter the sanitary sewer system.
"If there is any kind of leak, the moment the water table gets up where it is above your pipelines it will start draining into the sewer line," said Coetzee. "Every time there is a high rain all these things combine and give us more water than what we can handle."
Rainfall has also stalled utility infrastructure maintenance and construction work, Coetzee added.