The sewage treatment plant located along North River Road has been operating under a special order of consent since last year. The agreement allowed the plant to increase it treatment capacity to 1.2 million gallons a day; however, the increase is not enough. TWASA has implemented a moratorium restricting its sewer allocations. TWASA officials are now asking the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources for approval to operate the plant at its full permitting capacity of 1.5 million gallons a day.
“It’s crucial to try and free up additional capacity as long as it doesn’t have any detriment on the environment,” TWASA Executive Director Joe Cline said.
Operating the plant at its full capacity creates the potential for sewage overflows which can cause water quality and health problems. TWASA officials have said that their proactive measures should prevent the plant from exceeding its capacity and overflowing into waterways.
The problem is that all sewage treatment systems have some infiltration, which means they are treating more sewage than is sent into the system from businesses and homes. That infiltration can come from a number of sources.
“We’ve done a quite a bit of work to eliminate infiltration into the plant,” Cline said. Workers have lined several existing pipes at the plant to reduce infiltration and replaced two sections of sewer lines in the Sylva area.
Additionally, the authority is rehabilitating sewer lines in the Roads Cove area. New lines will be installed to 160 homes, but this project has been at a standstill because the authority is having difficulty with homeowners signing easements, Cline said.
This project cost $3 million. Up to $2 million will be funded by the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and TWASA will cover the rest. TWASA is an independent authority that handles water and sewer matters in Jackson County.
According to Cline, the sewer line replacement project, along with the additional projects, will help reduce the amount of infiltration into the system.
The authority’s upgrades to the plant’s aging equipment addresses some of the concerns that members of the Watershed Association of the Tuckasegee River have with the capacity request.
“It’s an excellent first start,” said Roger Clap, executive director of the watershed association. “But what we want is to make sure they keep working so sewage is not spilling into the creeks.”
Clap says the organizations biggest concern is that there is no infiltration or ex-filtration from the plant’s pipes.
Sylva town officials are not concerned about the potential environmental dangers, Sylva Town Manager Jay Denton said. Denton supports TWASA actions to increase capacity, which will help Sylva meet its residents’ and businesses’ needs.
“It’s needed for the town to operate at capacity to serve the needs of the town and people,” Denton said.
Growth and a new plant
If TWASA receives approval from the state to operate its plant at full capacity, that will only be a temporary fix to the problem. It took just a year for the River Road plant to reach its capacity of 1.2 million gallons a day, which is why TWASA officials are back in the same situation of asking state officials for another increase.
How did the authority not notice it was allocating too many permits to many businesses and homes?
Cline attributed the problem to sudden growth in the region.
“We allocated what we had for additional capacity quicker than what we expected,” he said.
In order to meet the county’s needs, TWASA officials are expanding the North River Road plant. A preliminary design has been rendered and is under review by the state, Cline said. Once the design is approved, TWASA will be able to submit its expansion plans to DENR. But considering the growth that keeps occurring in the county, some question whether the $14 million expansion will be sufficient. It will increase capacity to 3.5 million gallons a day and plans call for the construction to be completed in 2011.
“In my personal opinion, if the growth continues it might not be enough,” Cline said. “If it continues, we really need to look at it.”