Sewage spill causes part of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal to close

Primary pump, backup pump and telemetry that monitors functionality all failed

September 22, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION |
  • Caution and detour signs are posted along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal after raw sewage was spilled on Thursday.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

WILLIAMSPORT — A "significant" amount of sewage spilled onto the towpath of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park sometime Wednesday night or Thursday morning, forcing part of the canal to be closed for ten days, according to Washington County Health Department and park officials.

The spill, which occurred off Lockwood Road downstream from the Cushwa turning basin, happened because of a "triple failure" in a sewage system, said Brian Carlstrom, deputy superintendent of the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

At the time of the spill, an overhaul was being conducted on a Williamsport  sewage pumping station, and until that work was completed, sewage was being diverted to a backup pump, town Mayor James G. McCleaf II said.

The spill occurred when a primary pump, a backup pump and telemetry that monitors functionality all failed, according to an e-mail from Dave Barnhart of the county health department.

"Hence, a significant, but unknown, quantity of raw sewage overflowed across the towpath and into the re-watered portion of the C&O Canal," said  Barnhart, who is director of the health department's Division of Environmental Health.

"They had the perfect storm down there," McCleaf said Thursday evening.

Officials said it was unclear how much sewage spilled. Carlstrom said Thursday afternoon that the leak had been stopped but he did not know when that occurred.

About 50 yards of the towpath was affected, and a "fairly short detour" has been set up at the site to lead users around the affected area while officials assess the situation, Carlstrom said.

Because the sewage went into a watered section of the canal, that water was to be pumped from the canal and treated in Williamsport's water-treatment system, Carlstrom said.

Signs have been posted in the area telling people not to fish there, McCleaf said. People are being instructed not to fish there for 10 days, Carlstrom said.

Powdered lime was applied to the spilled sewage in an attempt to neutralize the spilled sewage, the officials said.

Maryland Department of the Environment officials were expected to arrive at the site Thursday evening to assess the situation, he said.

Williamsport is overhauling four sewage pump stations, and the spill occurred at Pump No. 1, McCleaf said.

"We've never had this problem before. It's never a good thing, but we learned a lot," McCleaf said.

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