Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission officials said tens of thousands of gallons of wastewater spilled each in two separate instances near an Upper Marlboro wastewater treatment plant Saturday.
WSSC crews placed warning signs at the sites of two separate overflows that occurred near the Western Branch Wastewater Treatment Plant in Upper Marlboro Saturday.
“We posted signs at both sites, and we cleaned the affected area (s),” WSSC spokesperson Ayoka Blandford said.
WSSC puts up signs warning people not to enter the area where the sewage leaks occurred. Officials said the overflows had no effect on drinking water supplies.
“What happens is if it goes into the public area, we post signs for the community so that they don’t, (so) they’re careful in the areas,” Blandford said. “We ask them not to enter the area actually, because it could have a health impact.”
The first overflow occurred at 5:45 a.m. Saturday. About 100,000 gallons of wastewater overflowed from the manhole, just outside the plant but still on WSSC grounds, then entered the treatment plant, Blandford said.
WSSC officials attributed the overflow to the heavy rain.
Blandford said while the manhole had the capacity for normal levels of wastewater, the rainwater increased the volume it had to handle.
“As far as we know, no, there was no obstruction, there was just heavy rain,” said Blandford.
According to WSSC’s original 2005 consent decree with the Environmental Protection Agency and others, WSSC’s having a sanitary sewer overflow of 100,000 gallons or more would be required to pay a $10,000 fee to either the Environment Protection Agency or to the Maryland Department of the Environment.
WSSC officials said the second overflow occurred around 11 p.m. when a pipe broke that was connected to a temporary bypass pump for wastewater. About 20,000 gallons of wastewater overflowed.
Blandford said Tuesday evening that information about a cause of the second overflow was not readily available.
She said she did not believe any damage to plant property resulted from the overflows.
A consent decree between the EPA, the Department of Justice, Maryland Department of the Environment, The Anacostia Wastershed Society et al. and WSSC requires WSSC to complete a form to report each sanitary sewer overflow – when more than 10,000 gallons of partially-treated or untreated wastewater leaves the sewers – regardless of whether it occurs on public land or on WSSC property, Blandford said.
According to WSSC, the agreement followed a lawsuit filed in November 2004 from the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of the Environment Protection Agency after excessive amounts of wastewater overflowed from WSSC’s collection system. The parties involved signed an amendment in 2016 to extend the deadline of the steps WSSC must take to repair its sewer system by six years.
Though both overflows occurred on or near the treatment plant, Blandford says WSSC took extra precautions when there is a spill during the warmer months, just in case a person unaware of the plant walks through the nearby woods.
“For the most part, most people don’t know that there’s a plant; they wouldn’t know it was a plant unless someone literally took them into the entrance,” Blandford said. “So, it’s just a safety precaution. No one would probably ever go over there. If it’s in the public domain, we’re going to be safe.”