State environmental officials were dispatched Jan. 2 to the Lewes wastewater treatment plant after the plant operator was once again forced to bypass stages of wastewater treatment and discharge partially treated effluent into the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal for about two hours Jan. 1.
According to a press release from the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Tidewater bypassed normal operations until a problem with newly installed treatment membranes could be solved. By 11:45 p.m. Jan. 1, DNREC officials say, Tidewater was able to end the bypass and resume normal treatment of effluent. However, DNREC officials issued the press release at 5:12 p.m., Jan. 2, long after the Cape Gazette deadline.
DNREC on Jan. 2 monitored plant operations and Tidewater Utilities’ mitigation efforts following earlier system malfunctions at the plant. The Lewes wastewater plant discharged partially treated effluent from Dec. 18 to Dec. 28 after a system malfunction caused contamination of the plant’s treatment membranes used to filter wastewater. New membranes were installed Dec. 28, enabling full treatment to resume, but according to the DNREC press release, Tidewater reported Jan. 2 that pressure build-up behind the new membranes required a bypass to avoid compromising them. After consulting with the membrane manufacturer, Tidewater has instituted new protocols to minimize pressure build-up moving forward, with no further bypass events expected. Tidewater also informed DNREC that an additional set of refurbished membranes is ready to be put back into service to alleviate strain on the new treatment unit.
DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin confirmed Dec. 28 that an environmental violation had occurred when the Lewes wastewater plant bypassed normal treatment operations Dec. 18-28 because of a system malfunction, and that DNREC is currently gathering information before determining appropriate action. Department staff will continue to monitor the plant daily as Tidewater works toward consistent treatment of effluent without further malfunctions.
Although the plant is back online and has resumed normal treatment of effluent, DNREC also encourages the public who depend on the Lewes plant to continue practicing water conservation while corrective measures continue at the plant.