Hundreds of utility workers are scrambling to restore power across Beaufort County in the wake of Hurricane Matthew, and one of their top priorities is getting electricity flowing again to another important piece of infrastructure — sewer systems.
Town of Port Royal Mayor Sam Murray was among those this week asking for patience from those still without power in their homes: Getting the pumping stations operational again is worth the delay.
About 91 of 500 pump stations — also called “lift” stations — maintained by the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority are out of power, according to utility director Joe DeVito.
Sewage collects in wells at the stations, and when the wells are full, pumps kick on to push the waste water down lines leading to treatment plants. If the pumps aren’t powered, wells can overflow and lines can back up, creating a health hazard.
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“We did have sanitary sewer overflows,” DeVito said. “Our goal was to have no active overflows as of yesterday afternoon and we reached that goal with the help of SCE&G.”
Beaufort County warns that people should avoid standing water out of concern for contamination.
There are no active overflows in BJWSA's service area, DeVito said Wednesday morning, however, overflows were being reported on Hilton Head Island. Crews are using mobile pumps powered by diesel engines and generators to manually pump sewage out of the 91 stations without power.
Sewer customers can also help prevent overflows, DeVito said. If they are in a home with sewer service but no power, they should assume nearby pumping stations also are without power and restrict the amount of water they put down their drains.
“If you can take a one-minute shower versus five minutes, that is great,” DeVito said. “If you can not flush the toilet as much and turn off the water while brushing your teeth, that also would help. ... The more you can keep the usage down the easier it is on all those people who have worked since the sun came up Saturday morning.”
Van Willis, Port Royal town manager, said overflowing sewers pose a health risk.
“If it is not pushed to the treatment facility, it can start to bubble up to the surface,” Willis said. “You do not want gray water on the ground because of disease and other problems it can cause.”
Many pumps on Hilton Head Island are without water, as well, according to Pete Nardi, Hilton Head Island Public Service District general manager. Some have also been damaged.
“Some remain inaccessible because of the debris, and others have been smashed,” Nardi said. “We are repairing what we can get to.”
Devito said only a couple pump stations in his service area remain out of service because of damage.