WEF Mobilizes Network To Assist in Hurricane Sandy Response and Recovery

December 27, 2012

Featured, WEF Resources & Efforts

An ARCADIS (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) employee uses the company’s HaulPass debris tracking system to assist with restoration efforts after Superstorm Sandy. Photo courtesy of ARCADIS.

An ARCADIS (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) employee uses the company’s HaulPass debris tracking system to assist with restoration efforts after Hurricane Sandy. Photo courtesy of ARCADIS.

Hurricane Sandy pummeled the northeastern United States Oct. 29–30. High winds and rain caused widespread power outages and flooding; hardest hit were New York City and parts of New Jersey. As citizens took shelter, wastewater treatment facilities continued to operate as long as possible. The Water Environment Federation (WEF; Alexandria, Va.) mobilized its network of members and Member Associations (MAs) to provide information, resources, and assistance to affected facilities.

WEF mobilizes volunteers to offer aid and information

Starting Nov. 2, WEF participated in discussions to identify problems facilities were facing and potential solutions. Discussions began when U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson contacted WEF Executive Director Jeff Eger to find individuals and agencies that might be able to provide assistance, said Matt Ries, WEF chief technical officer.

The Passaic Valley (N.J.) Sewerage Commission (PVSC) was a primary topic of conversation, Ries said. Sandy submerged PVSC under floodwaters and knocked out its electric and dewatering systems. “On Monday, October 29, Hurricane Sandy devastated the entire Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission (PVSC) facility,” said Mike DeFrancisci, PVSC executive director, in a message to the public. “This catastrophic event inundated our plant, causing widespread and significant damage.”

PVSC, a specialized secondary treatment plant, uses a pure-oxygen activated sludge process with wet-air oxidation to treat an average of 1249 million L/d (330 mgd) of wastewater, with peak wet weather flows of 2082 million L/d (550 mgd). It is one of the largest modern wastewater facilities in the eastern United States and one of the half-dozen largest in the entire country, according to PVSC’s website. After the storm, the facility continued to receive and treat wastewater using generators but was unable to treat solids, Ries said.

ARCADIS employees clean debris at wastewater treatment facilities affected by Superstorm Sandy using the company’s HaulPass system. Photo courtesy of ARCADIS.

ARCADIS employees clean debris at wastewater treatment facilities affected by Superstorm Sandy using the company’s HaulPass system. Photo courtesy of ARCADIS.

WEF and other participants identified two potential solutions for PVSC to handle its solids: bringing in mobile dewatering equipment, or shipping solids on barges to other facilities for treatment. Ries took the lead at WEF, reaching out to members to find those who could help or offer suggestions.

“Basically, I picked up the phone and started calling people,” Ries said. By Nov. 4, WEF had created a list of potential solutions, people, and organizations who would help.

“We mobilized a network of WEF volunteers,” Ries said. “Every single one of them said yes.” After further discussions, everyone agreed treating the solids onsite was the better option, and WEF compiled a list of resources and recommendations and provided it to PVSC and their contractor, Ries said.

“It’s very apparent that the staff and management of the various treatment facilities are very willing to go ‘all in’ to help other facilities in times of need,” said WEF member Andrew Gregson, a vice president at Hazen and Sawyer (New York). In response to Ries’ request, Gregson started his own phone chain, contacting several company office managers who contacted several treatment facilities to identify those that could offer assistance.

WEF volunteers who were instrumental in compiling resources for PVSC include Gregson; Craig Murray, vice president at ARCADIS (Highlands Ranch, Colo.); Charles B. Bott, WEF Board of Trustees member and chief of special projects at Hampton Roads (Va.) Sanitation District; Andrew Kricun, executive director and chief engineer at the Camden County (N.J.) Municipal District; and Walter F. Bailey, assistant general manager of wastewater treatment, Chris Peot, biosolids manager, and Sudhir Murthy, manager, at DC Water (Washington, D.C.), Ries said.

“PVSC continues to repair and rebuild its systems and equipment,” a PVSC news release says. Today, its primary and secondary treatment processes are operational, and disinfection continues, the release says. The plant also has 10 mobile solids dewatering centrifuges and additional equipment from Synagro Technologies Inc. (Houston) through emergency response contracts, according to a Synagro news release.

WEF members work in New York

In addition to PVSC, Sandy also damaged 10 of New York City’s 14 wastewater treatment plants and more than 40 sanitary sewer pumping stations, according to a New York City Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) news release. By Nov. 10, 13 of 14 treatment plants were again operational and treating more than 99% of wastewater in the city, the news release says.

From left, Hazen and Sawyer (New York) employees Robert Pedenzin, construction manager, and Mike DeNicola, program manager, aid in Superstorm Sandy recovery efforts. Photo courtesy of Hazen and Sawyer.

From left, Hazen and Sawyer (New York) employees Robert Pedenzin, construction manager, and Mike DeNicola, program manager, aid in Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts. Photo courtesy of Hazen and Sawyer.

Hazen and Sawyer staff assisted in the quick restoration of service throughout New York. Specifically, staff members were diverted from their daily jobs to assist DEP in restoring the Nassau County Department of Public Works’ Bay Park (N.Y.) Sewage Treatment Plant, Gregson said. From this experience, Gregson said he supports forming “a more structured response network that incorporates a partnership between water and wastewater consulting firms, treatment works operators, and EPA and WEF.” This type of network “would go a long way to minimizing the response time in emergencies,” he said.

In addition, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state and local governments contracted with ARCADIS to help clean debris from 14 New York and New Jersey communities. Hundreds of company employees, many of whom are WEF members, served in various roles before, during, and after the storm, including providing damage assessment and planning services on the ground at county and municipal wastewater treatment facilities, said Sandra Ralston, client development manager at ARCADIS U.S.

“WEF professionals’ years of knowledge and experience are proving to be vital in the monumental effort to help the area recover quickly,” Ralston said. In addition to technical expertise, ARCADIS employees have donated more than $14,000 to the American Red Cross (Washington, D.C.). ARCADIS matched and added to the donation, presenting a total of $50,000 to the Red Cross.

WEF Member Associations provides support and assistance

After the hurricane, WEF reached out the West Virginia, Chesapeake, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, New England, and Pennsylvania Water Environment Associations (WEAs) to express concern and offer use of the WEF network to let others know about their needs and keep them informed about the situation.

A temporary dewatering system provided by Synagro (Houston) at a wastewater treatment facility where Hazen and Sawyer staff worked to help with Superstorm Sandy restoration. Photo courtesy of Hazen and Sawyer.

A temporary dewatering system provided by Synagro (Houston) at a wastewater treatment facility where Hazen and Sawyer staff worked to help with Superstorm Sandy restoration. Photo courtesy of Hazen and Sawyer.

In a letter to the New York and New Jersey WEAs and the Connecticut Water Pollution Abatement Association (Milford), the New England WEA announced that it had issued a position paper “supporting the formation and support of mutual aid among water and wastewater systems” for water and wastewater agency response networks, and “will champion this effort with its own membership as well as with state and federal lawmakers,” the letter says.

In the letter, New England WEA announced that it donated $1000 to the Red Cross to aid restoration efforts. Issued by Dan Bisson, New England WEA president, on behalf of all New England WEA members, the letter also expresses concern for the situation along the coast and the MA’s pride in “water and wastewater treatment plant operators who almost immediately were back at work to assess, salvage, repair, and restart facilities.”

Support and offers of assistance also came from overseas. Mayumi Koseki, chief of international affairs for the Japan Sewerage Works Association (Tokyo), offered to provide information based on Japan’s experiences with the 2011 earthquake and tsunami to facilities affected by the hurricane.

WEF issues thank you and compiles emergency response resources

In the video “Thank You First Responders! Water’s Worth It!,” Jeff Eger expressed gratitude to those who responded to the emergency situation and still are working to repair systems.

For more information on resources for recovery, read the Highlights article “Preparing for and Recovering From Disasters.”

— Jennifer Fulcher, WEF Highlights

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