The City of Gray is making progress to get out from under an EPD consent order levied in March due to multiple sewer spills and violations of its wastewater treatment plant capacity permit.
Assistant City Superintendent Cheyenne Morgan said he has been working with EPD officials on the city’s punch list to respond to the violations in the order. He said the city has invested $185,000 in Infiltration and Inflow issues. Morgan said that includes main replacement, running cameras through sewer lines to find problem areas and completing those repairs.
Morgan said wastewater flows were high during recent deluges, but the plant had been under the permitted allocation until then.
“We can handle the lighter rains and even with the heavy rains, we’re not hitting 800,000 GPD (gallons per day) anymore,” he said.
The assistant superintendent noted that the city still has a long way to go but they have been able to narrow the daily flow down by 200,000 GPD during rain events. He added that most days the city is operating below its 400,000 GPD permitted level.
“We are still not where we want to be. I don’t think we will ever see the 85 percent capacity level, which is where we need to be,” Morgan said.
He said the city’s wastewater treatment plant is now averaging 328,000 GPD on a day without rain, but of course, school was not in session. He said that would probably raise the average flow to 375,000 GPD.
Morgan said another good sign for the wastewater treatment plant is the sediment pond level is down three feet and is now at the lowest it has been in years.
He said there was not just one problem causing issues and the flows have improved as multiple repairs were your completed.
He said at this point they are focusing on the Glover Lane and Washburn pumping stations, the city’s two largest.
“Those two pump stations have the highest flows. Glover Lane has come a long way, now averaging 67,000 GPD, down from 200,000 GPD,” he said.
Morgan said they are waiting to see if some of the American Rescue Program funds can be used to fund repairs.
The assistant superintendent said he is hopeful that, considering the progress that has made on the punch list and other actions taken, the city could be out from under the consent order this fall.
Morgan said he has been working with Matt Smith with Carter and Sloope and Jody Sapp, Todd Bethune and Tilden Bembry with the West Central District Office of the EPD that includes Jones County.
The assistant superintendent said the current goal is to keep the flows at the permitted level. He said, before the recent improvements to the system, a heavy rain would take days to clear, but now the heavy flows clear fast.
Even with all the improvements that have been made and the ones they are working on, it is only a band aid until rvice the new treatment plant is built.
“We are never going to be able to stay under the capacity required by the EPD,” he said.
When a treatment plant is consistently at 85 percent of its capacity, it gets the attention of the EPD, and Gray has been running over capacity for several years. The consent order was not a surprise.
Morgan said a new wastewater treatment plant is the only thing that will solve Gray’s sewage issues for the long term. It is not an exaggeration to say the city has been working on plans for a new treatment plant for more than a decade.
The pandemic has slowed down an already lengthy funding process, but progress is being made. It is hoped that some of the city’s $1 million portion of the American Rescue Program can assist with some of the expenses and speed up the process.
Morgan said it would take 18-24 months to complete construction of the new plant once it has started. The latest plan is to build a new 400,000 capacity plant next to the current plant and then completely renovate the current facility. That would bring the city’s capacity to 800,000 gpd, which is expected to be sufficient for years to come, as long as I&I is kept under control.