WWTP administrator discusses recent sewer back-ups
By Terry Duffy
Following last week's deluge of rains, there was water, water everywhere - much of it in residents' basements - Lewiston wastewater treatment plant administrator Jeff Ritter told Supervisor Steve Broderick and the Lewiston Town Board meeting on Monday.
"This year, the Town of Lewiston has been the recipient of record amounts of rainfall," Ritter said. He told board members that, normally by this time of the year, Lewiston typically averages 6.6 inches of rain. Last year it was a little over 5 inches, but thus far in 2017 the town has logged 14.2 inches.
"It's an all-time record for the treatment plant for the first five months of the year," Ritter said. "This equates to flooding streets and basements for homeowners. The Water Pollution Control Center took hundreds of calls this week from Route 31 to Lake Road in the Town of Porter."
"The treatment plant can only pump the water as fast as it can get there," he continued. "And there are several irate homeowners who blame the town when there is flooding."
Ritter went on to explain that, when Lewiston experiences very heavy rain events such as what was seen last week, "there are still be going be sewer backups," regardless of how many houses are tied into the water treatment plant. The Lewiston facility actually functions as a quad-community processor, handling sewer needs for the Town and Village of Lewiston, the Town of Porter and the Village of Youngstown.
"The water has to have some place to go," he said. "Not unlike a traffic jam with too many cars on the road. Some neighborhoods have poor drainage and pooling water that will take the path of least resistance."
Ritter said adding a half-dozen or more illegal sump pump hook-ups to the sanitary sewer "would definitely help surcharge the system."
And added to that are those residents who modify or cut down surface vents to be even with their lawns for appearance purposes. They will essentially drain their lawn to the town's sanitary sewer system, he said.
"All of these are on private property and out of town jurisdiction," Ritter said, adding "illegal connections" occur too often and are a significant contributor to inflow problems experienced by the WWTP.
Also contributing to this is what he called "infiltration," where the ground becomes excessively saturated with water. The result is water penetrating underground pipe joints and cracks in piping - a situation Ritter said town crews are constantly monitoring and repairing.
"There are no municipalities that I know of that do not have sewer backups with this much water," Ritter said. He told the board his department "responded to every call with a sewer backup."
Homeowners were advised on corrective measures, which range from installing drain plugs to shut-off valves, etc.
"Every homeowner who had the town respond was told how to protect their homes," Ritter said, noting many who called are repeat problems. "If anyone has a sewer back-up problem in the town, we would be happy to evaluate their situation," but the resident has the responsibility to hire a plumber and handle the task.
Ritter said that, throughout the recent storms, overall, the plant functioned well. He said there were times when the plant was forced to release an overflow mix of storm and sanitary water following "primary treatment," i.e., chlorinating, then actual release in the Niagara River.
But "we pumped the water as fast as it got there," he said.
In other news from the board meeting:
•The town opened with a public hearing on a proposed local law covering "Electronic Message Displays and Light Emitting Displays" in Lewiston. It saw limited comments.
Resident David Fontanarosa, a billboard operator, advised board members to consider First Amendment issues as well as those addressing the distance between signs and the types of messages involved.
The hearing was left open, with Town Board action expected at the May 22 session.
•The town has set a June 26 public hearing on addressing a proposed Town of Lewiston Historic Preservation Law. Details were not available at Monday's session.
•Town Board Councilman Bill Geiben said he was awaiting further action towards finalizing the town's cable TV broadcasts until he discussed the matter with Lewiston-Porter Superintendent Paul Casseri, who had expressed an interest in having district students participating.