The recently opened wastewater treatment facility in Buzzards Bay was forced to shut down when the plant’s biological function was decimated. People associated with the project said that “bugs” used in the treatment of wastewater at the facility were killed off, potentially by products that are not to be flushed through the sewer system.
A report of the plant’s shutdown was made to the Bourne Wastewater Facility Design and Building Committee during the group’s meeting on Tuesday, October 12. The treatment center had to be shut down from Wednesday afternoon, October 6, through Monday.
Corey Repucci with the engineering firm Weston and Sampson reported on the shutdown to the committee’s members. Mr. Repucci described the situation as “some sort of toxic event” that killed off the treatment center’s biology, which is the “bugs” that treat the wastewater.
“There are little bugs in the water that basically break down the wastewater,” he said. “The toxic event resulted in all that biology being killed off.”
The bugs are live bacteria that remove such things as phosphorus, nitrogen, sodium, potassium, iron and calcium, as well as fats, sugars and proteins. The bugs were likely killed off, Mr. Repucci said, by products that should not be flushed into the sewer system.
“We’re not 100 percent sure,” he said. “It’s possible that it’s some sort of ammonia-based cleaning compound.”
Mr. Repucci also assured the committee that once the problem was detected, wastewater from the Buzzards Bay site was redirected to the treatment center in Wareham. He added that wastewater from the plant is discharged into the ground under the parking lot around the new police station and the treatment center. There is no discharge of wastewater into the Cape Cod Canal, he said.
Mr. Repucci said the number of gallons sent to the Wareham plant did not exceed the 200,000 gallons per day agreed on in Bourne’s intermunicipal agreement with Wareham. Samples of the Buzzards Bay treatment center’s water were taken, he said, to try to identify the exact cause of the toxic event. He said those test results are still pending.
Peter J. Meier, who represents the Bourne Board of Sewer Commissioners on the committee, asked if the source of the product that caused the bugs to die off could eventually be identified. Mr. Repucci said the lab results that are pending might provide some indication as to the type of facility.
“We don’t know anything for sure,” Mr. Repucci said, “so we’re not going to try to predict which business it was.”
Interim Town Administrator Timothy J. King asked about the weather in the days leading up to the problem at the plant. Mr. King suggested that the source of the die-off might be found in stormwater instead of wastewater, but Mr. Repucci noted that the facility’s inflow does not include stormwater.
Assistant Town Administrator Glenn D. Cannon focused on the cost to the town of what happened at the plant. Mr. Cannon said the cost of re-seeding the plant with new biology was “not an insignificant amount of money.”
Mr. Cannon pointed out that the money to re-seed came from the town’s sewer enterprise fund, which comprises fees from sewer users. The sewer commissioners recently approved a large rate increase to sewer users, he said, and there has been considerable debate about the use of retained earnings in the enterprise fund.
“This is a big hit for that enterprise fund,” he said. “Let’s remember, it’s just those 1,000 users that are on that enterprise fund; it’s not spread out across the town, so this is not insignificant.”
Committee chairman Stanley D. Andrews said it was important to identify the cause and the responsible party and then to report to the sewer commissioners, who would then take any additional action. Mr. Andrews added that it is imperative to educate the public on what can and cannot be placed in the sewer system to avoid a repeat event in the future.
The wastewater treatment facility has been in operation since early August. The $9.7 million facility was built on a site near Queen Sewell Park and adjacent to the new Bourne Police Department station.
The new wastewater plant has been cited as key to the renaissance of Bourne’s downtown business district. The facility will increase wastewater capacity in Buzzards Bay by 100,000 gallons a day. That increased flow is expected to open up business opportunities in the town’s Growth Incentive Zone.