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Rehoboth Beach pump issue should have surfaced sooner

July 24, 2018

Stormwater.

It's a problem.

This year, it has closed beaches at Slaughter Beach and Lewes.

Rehoboth has escaped a closure this year, but the city has not avoided scrutiny for the failure of a critical part of its stormwater infrastructure.

The pumps at a catch basin on Rehoboth Avenue are designed to pump the first inch-and-a-half of stormwater – typically the dirtiest water – into the sewer system, where it is treated and, since May, sent a mile offshore in the new ocean outfall.

Two years ago, in July 2016, officials briefly closed Rehoboth Beach because tests showed high levels of bacteria, blamed on stormwater.

That should have sparked a systematic review of the system – but no maintenance record has been found.

In October 2017, city engineering firm GHD, as part of a $250,000 outfall study, noticed the catch basin pumps were not working.

But GHD failed to alert city officials until April, six months later – ostensibly because GHD could not determine whether it had found a one-time failure or an ongoing problem.

To citizens, that explanation sounds like something that should have been pumped to the treatment plant.

There is no excuse for an engineering firm studying stormwater to not immediately alert city officials about a system failure – even a possible failure – that could threaten Rehoboth's reputation as one of the cleanest beaches in the nation.

The city's incoming public works director, who appears up to the task of monitoring critical infrastructure, estimates the pumps could be repaired for about $4,000.

Had city officials been made aware of the problem when it was first discovered, repairs could have been made well ahead of the tourist season – not right in the middle of the busiest weeks.

As Rehoboth begins budget planning, repair and maintenance of stormwater infrastructure should be the city's highest priority.

Meanwhile, GHD recommendations should be on hold, and the company should be required to resample stormwater once the system is functioning properly.

  • Editorials are considered by the editorial board and written by Dennis Forney, publisher emeritus, and Laura Ritter, news editor, with occasional contributions from other board members: Trish Vernon, CoPublisher and Editor; Dave Frederick, sports editor emeritus; Jen Ellingsworth, associate editor; Nick Roth, sports editor; and Chris Rausch, CoPublisher and General Manager.