Leaders say BGE slow to stop millions of gallons of raw sewage

SAVAGE, Md. - As the water from the Little Patuxent River covered the road leading to Hettie Beth's house, she learned of the contamination.

"I heard about a sewage leak, but I just thought it was somebody's septic tank... not that big," said Beth.
How about two million gallons of raw sewage each hour?

When a power line went down cutting off the electricity to the Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant in Savage, it sent the sewage from a quarter of a million customers spilling into the river.

The plant had a backup system, another source of power, but it suffered a similar fate.

"There are two separate feeders... two separate substations, power sources, (that) feed into this plant so historically that has been enough to keep this plant operational," said Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, "In this instance it was not."

Ullman says he had made it clear to the power company that the waste water facility would be the county's top priority in an outage, and he wasn't happy with the delayed response.

"At 11 o'clock last night, it went down, the second feeder went down.  We notified BGE right away.  We notified MEMA... the Department of the Environment, and it took over 12 hours to get it back up," said Ulman, "So we want to make sure working with BGE that this never happens again."

As much as 25 million gallons of sewage is already headed towards the bay, and even with the completed repairs, more is on the way.

"Getting the plant to perform at 100% is going to take four or five days because it's a biological process that's pretty upset right now," said Steve Gerwin of the Howard County Bureau of Utilities.

While county leaders say the spill should not pose a health threat and has not impacted the drinking water system, Hettie Beth isn't so sure.

She's on her own system.

"I'm on a well and our water's not that great anyway, but I guess if it got close enough to our well it would affect it," said Beth.

The county executive has ordered an audit of what went wrong, and what role plant workers and BGE played in stopping the spill.

He also plans to review the means by which power is supplied to the plant, and what may be needed to keep this from happening again.

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