By Linda Burchette
The state’s annual wastewater system performance report for West Jefferson found several minor violations over the past year.
“If there is a violation, we must report it,” said West Jefferson’s Utilities Director David Hamilton. “It doesn’t mean we did anything wrong.”
The state monitors the ability of each of the state’s municipal wastewater treatment facilities to insure it doesn’t discharge potentially hazardous waste into open streams or rivers. The annual report, prepared by the N.C. Division of Water Quality, documented several minor violations in the West Jefferson facility.
There were no fines issused as a result of the violations.
A fine, Hamilton said, is based on the seriousness of the violation and the type based on various categories, and past history of the system. The town would be issued a Notice of Violation, which would be changed to Notice of Deficiency if the issue is not addressed. He said the town has not been issued a fine for the wastewater treatment system since 2004.
When the notice of the town’s violations was published in the Feb. 14 edition of the Jefferson Post, town officials said, “The Town of West Jefferson considers any violation of our permit unacceptable and cause for further monitoring.”
Violations incurred by the town’s wastewater treatment plant were:
* Failure to report temperature five times weekly in January and February 2011
This was just a glitch, Hamilton said. His crew had been reporting three times weekly, but a new requirement in testing upped that to five times weekly. That violation was soon corrected, he said.
* Cadmium levels in June 2011 higher than permitted
Levels of cadmium in June were recording slightly above normal, Hamilton said. The substance is naturally occurring, he said, and only a health hazard in high quantities.
Tests are performed by four to five independent labs, and in-house. Hamilton said it was determined that an independent lab had contamination of testing material and that had affected the cadmium test results.
* Cyanide levels in October 2011 higher than permitted
Hamilton said the town’s 4.4 micrograms of cyanide reported last October is below the state allowed level but anything registering less than five micrograms is not considered accurate, he said, as the lab test automatically goes to five micrograms.
Hamilton’s department disagreed with the state lab testing for cyanide and cadmium and challenged the tests. The cadmium level was determined affected by the contaminated lab materials, but the cyanide level was determined slightly high.
“The state said we had to get it down,” Hamilton said of the cyanide level. “That is done through the treatment process. We had to tweak it a little.”
“We have no control over what comes in (the system),” Hamilton said. “We have to control what goes out.”
He suggested residents use caution in mixing cleaning products as some combinations can form toxic gases such as cyanide gas. And that compound can occur in the wastewater collection system when chemicals are flushed down toilets and drains.
The West Jefferson collection treatment system treats the wastewater through a multitude of filtering systems removing all solids before it is released into the creek beside the plant. Hamilton pointed out that the water coming out of the plant is clearer and cleaner than the water already running through the creek. He said he explains to touring school groups who ask that you could drink the water in the creek if you had to, but he wouldn’t want to unless it was a dire emergency because there is no control over what else is in the creek water.
Solids collected through the system are turned into sludge that is applied to farmland. The town has agreements with farmers for application, and restrictions are based on those farmers and the weather.
“It is cleaned so much it’s basically fertilizer,” Hamilton said of the sludge, used mostly to fertilize Bermuda grass and clover. The town also accepts liquid runoff – or leachate - from the county landfill and it is added to the sludge process.
West Jefferson’s wastewater treatment plant was upgraded in 2003 from 369,000 gallons treated a day to half a million gallons a day, Hamilton said, and is running at 40 to 45 percent capacity.
The crew does an annual flow tracking summary to test capacity. Hamilton said when capacity reaches 60 percent, tracking must be done every six months. When capacity reaches 70 percent, tracking is done quarterly. Discussion of plant expansion needs to begin when capacity reaches 60 percent, he said, and by 80 percent the state expects the municipality to have a plan in place and action taken on expansion. A moratorium on hookups is assigned at 90 percent capacity.
“We’re doing good on capacity,” Hamilton said. “We’ve got a ways to go.”
The town maintains 24 miles of collection lines and four pump stations for proper operation of the collection system, which serves 1,163 people and a total of 840 (residential and commercial) sewer connections.
Hamilton has worked 21 years in the water and wastewater maintenance systems, and is fully licensed in collection, wastewater plant, water plant, pretreatment, distribution, and sprayer irrigation among other certifications. He serves as operator and responsible charge for the plant in several categories, and is assisted by staff members Jessie Call, Tommy Royal and Jody Walters.
For more information about the town’s collection system, call Hamilton at 246-3558.