Official discusses next steps after Lake Quinsigamond sewage spill

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Official discusses next steps after Lake Quinsigamond sewage spill
Water flowed into Lake Quinsigamond behind the Lake Avenue Pumping Station in Worcester as crews respond to a failure at the site on Feb. 6. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

SHREWSBURY – A Worcester pump station failure spilled nearly six million gallons of raw sewage into Lake Quinsigamond last month, prompting outrage and questions among many throughout the region.

It wasn’t the first time this happened.

As a result, city officials say they’ve heard community frustration and are committed to an ongoing review of the pump station in question.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to look at the station and really figure out ‘Why is this station problematic?’” Worcester Commissioner of Public Works and Parks Jay Fink told the Lake Quinsigamond Commission last week.

Spill stems from pump failure

The sewage spill kicked off early on Feb. 6, Fink said, at the Lake Avenue Pump Station in Worcester, just a few blocks south of the Kenneth F. Burns Memorial Bridge.

A pump sprung a leak that let water pool around the pump. But that didn’t immediately trigger alarms since the pump was still working despite its leak.

In time, though, water pooled to such a height that it shorted out the pump’s electrical panel and controls, sending the larger pumping station into “full failure,” Fink said.

An operator saw alerts at 7:30 a.m. and called crews to the scene, beginning a roughly 36 hour effort to get the station back online, all while a stream of sewage spilled into the station parking lot, down a slight slope and into Lake Quinsigamond.

City adjusts spill volume estimates

Crews managed to stop the spill.

City officials then initially estimated the volume of sewage sent into the lake around 4 million gallons.

By Feb. 14, though, they had adjusted their figure, now estimating 5.75 million gallons spilled based on new calculations.

The city has since conducted testing of lake water, leading to a decision last week to lift a health advisory that had asked residents to stay off part of the lake due to the spill.

In the meantime, Fink said City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. has toured the Lake Avenue site, vowing to find funding for any necessary steps to prevent future spills.

Official discusses next steps after Lake Quinsigamond sewage spill
Crews were on scene on Lake Avenue in Worcester after a pump station failure led to the release of wastewater into Lake Quinsigamond on Feb. 6. (Photo/Dakota Antelman)

The city has installed a bypass pump system for emergency use.

Fink said that, among other things, there will also be new alarm points added to fill blind spots like the one highlighted when this pump started leaking without immediately failing outright.

Other fixes may be coming, he added, saying “nothing is off the table.”

‘It’s just very problematic’

Those in attendance for Fink’s presentation to the Lake Quinsigamond Commission thanked him and the city for their communication throughout this situation.

They also reiterated concerns that have been shared among community members in recent weeks.

“It happens and it happens too often,” Shrewsbury citizen representative Michael Paika said, referencing past sewage spills.

Indeed, these spills have taken place before.

This is despite a major project to rebuild the Lake Avenue Pump Station and expand its capacity in 2015.

“Clearly with the track record of the station, there’s additional work that needs to be done,” Fink said.

“It’s just very problematic,” Lake Quinsigamond Watershed Association president Barbara Kickham added.

Speaking before Fink’s presentation, Paika called for a backup system and a better alarm system at the Lake Ave. Pump Station, among other things.

Others noted other concerns, highlighting another pump station at Whitla Drive.

Where the Lake Avenue Pump Station’s failure caused problems, a similar failure at Whitla Drive could have much more severe impacts, commission members said, due to the underwater topography of Lake Quinsigamond.

Water around the Lake Avenue station is relatively deep allowing any sewage spilled there to quickly get diluted and broken down in a way that wouldn’t be possible in the more shallow water around Whitla Drive.

The Whitla Drive station is of particular focus as it, too, was recently rebuilt, in part to prepare for increased sewage flow from developments in the Edgemere area of Shrewsbury, which will be pumped into Worcester’s system as they come online.

Fink said officials are reviewing emergency protocols within the pumping system while considering redundancies and other measures available.

Worcester is working with a consultant to do this. A report is expected at some point in the next two months.

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