An increase in raw sewage spills along the city of Rome’s water treatment system has been partially attributed to the large amount of rainfall that caused minor flooding in portions of the county.
Water and Sewer Director Leigh Ross said the consistent rains that fell the week of Jan. 14 are the primary cause of three overflows. Three more are attributed to problems with one of the Floyd County Jail’s pumps.
All of the spills were cleaned up and the problems corrected.
According to Ross, there are two ways spills can happen during heavy rains.
When streams and creeks overflow their banks the excess water can sometimes cover manholes and pipes. When the pipes fill up, sewage can rise up through the manholes.
The second way involves clogs.
“We had gone so long without any large amounts of rain that sediment and debris can settle and collect in the pipes,” Ross said.
As a large amount of rain goes into the pipes, it loosens up the debris and pushes it together into a clog — sometimes at a point where roots grow through the pipes — and causes a backup.
In addition to overflows caused by the rain, three spills in early January were related to a malfunction in the private lift station at the Floyd County Jail.
When one of the facility’s pumps went down, the grinder pump stopped working. All of the debris and sewage that would have normally gone through the jail’s pump station went into the overflow pipe that connects directly into the city’s system.
The result was a few spills where crews had to unclog the pipes of snack bags, rags and grease. Sites of the overflows included near the rear of Rome High School and at Ridge Ferry Park.
Ross said jail administrators have fixed the pumps and are coming up with some fail-safe fixes, such as backup units and possibly larger units, so it won’t happen again.
When there is a clog, Ross said his crews immediately unstop the pipe, trap the overflow and pump it back into the manhole or pipe so it can re-enter the system and get treated.
While some of the spills during the last month are considered major spills by the state’s Environmental Protection Division since they released more than 10,000 gallons of raw sewage, Ross said that there are no repercussions.
“None of them were more than 30,000 gallons,” he said. “And we have an agreement with the EPD that as long as we don’t have any spills over 30,000 gallons they consider that we’re doing a good job.”
While their goal is to not have any, Ross said there are not nearly as many spills as there were five years ago, 10 years ago or 20 years ago.
“Every year, the system gets a little tighter and a little better due to continuous improvements and maintenance,” he said.
People can help keep the sewer lines in good shape by not dumping cooking grease or car oil down drains or into culverts on the side of roads.