The Warwick Sewer Authority knew the aging forced main line carrying wastewater from the Cedar Swamp pumping station – a major pumping station for sewage collected from the south east section …
The Warwick Sewer Authority knew the aging forced main line carrying wastewater from the Cedar Swamp pumping station – a major pumping station for sewage collected from the south east section of the city – was in rough shape. Inspections revealed serious deterioration of the cement pipe and the authority was prepared to seek bids for its repair this November.
But, as it turned out, failing infrastructure doesn’t wait for bids.
The 24-inch pipe ruptured Monday afternoon about five feet below Lakeshore Drive and about 60 feet away from Warwick Pond. The pipe carries about 1,550 gallons of waste water a minute. That water, an estimated 450,000 gallons by Tuesday afternoon according to the Department of Environmental Management, went directly into the pond. From the pond, it flowed into Buckeye Brook and into Mill Cove and Narragansett Bay.
In an around-the-clock drive, crews first restricted the flow and then had septic tank trucks capture as much of the waste as possible while implementing a longer range temporary bypass that stopped any flow from reaching the pond. Sun Belt, the contractor providing the 2,600-foot bypass was on scene by 5:30 p.m. and the bypass was operational by 12:30 a.m. Wednesday, Mat Solitro of the Warwick Sewer Authority reported. He said that temporary bypass will be replaced by a 12,500-foot bypass from the Cedar Swamp station, running across airport property to connect with the Airport Road interceptor that connects to the treatment plant.
In anticipation of repairing the forced main from Cedar Swamp, Solitro had already obtained the necessary easements and approvals from the FAA for the bypass on airport property. He projected the bypass would be in place by this weekend.
As Mayor Frank Picozzi explained Tuesday, with the bypasses in place the plan is to repair the complete section of pipe.
The break did not affect homes and businesses linked to the sewer system, nor does it present the possibility of customer backups. Solitro said the break didn’t affect service, although it brought confusion to the Lakeshore Drive neighborhood and side streets. An emergency gate at Winslow Park was opened allowing access to the neighborhood from Airport Road. Some residents complained of not being notified of developments that resulted in confusion and delayed school bus pickups.
For most of Tuesday, wastewater from the pit around the broken pipe was being pumped into a nearby catch basin where in turn it was pumped into septic pumping trucks. That procedure was less than perfect as there was a constant flow of milky gray water going into the pond.
Solitro said Wednesday he hadn’t had time to calculate how much wastewater ended up in the pond, but he would be doing that shortly. Picozzi questioned the DEM estimate, believing it to be less than what they estimated. Regardless of the quantity reaching the pond, residents were troubled by what was happening.
“Why didn’t they get the septic trucks last night?” Jennifer Watson asked Tuesday afternoon. Watson is staying with her great grandmother, Mary Curtis, on Lake Shore Drive. Watson said she suggested use of the septic trucks on visiting the scene Monday evening.
“All night long they let it flow into the lake,” she said.
Watson said she called DEM to alert them of the situation but nobody she reached would listen. Aware that Covid can be detected in waste water, she questioned whether the waste water could introduce infectious and transmittable diseases into the pond water exposing those who live around it.
“We’re coming through a pandemic and they think of nothing of putting this in the pond,” she said.
In an email to the Department of Health that was copied to the Beacon, Michael Zarum, president of the Buckeye Brook Coalition said he didn’t know the extent of the “septic leak” noting that “bacteria from septic systems, raw sewage groundwater that leaches into the watershed, and surface run off from such an infrastructure failure will have a negative impact on the watershed.” He questioned if RIDOH would be issuing a Public Health Notice. The Health Department and DEM issued a notice of the closure of an area off Mill Cove indefinitely to the harvesting of shellfish. DEM and the Department of Health also advised as a precaution that residents temporarily refrain from both primary contact recreational water activities (wading, swimming) and secondary contact activities (canoeing, kayaking, rowing, and fishing) on Warwick Pond, Buckeye Brook and Mill Cove.
In a release yesterday, DEM said it “continues to monitor this situation closely and is requiring the Sewer Authority to collect samples of Warwick Pond and the downstream waterbodies, in addition to the samples that DEM is taking, to evaluate water quality impacts and provide information on when the advisories/shellfishing closures can be lifted.”
As it has been doing with aging infrastructure elsewhere in the city, the Warwick Sewer Authority has slip lined in-ground pipes, rather than unearthing and replacing them. The process involves bypassing the area of repair, cleaning the existing pipe and introducing a “sock” permeated with resin that when pressured with hot water adheres to the wall of the pipe. The heat activates the curing of the resin thereby giving the pipe a hardened lining that is not susceptible to hydrogen sulfide that causes deterioration of cement pipes.
Solitro said Wednesday “options” for the repair of the line are under consideration but a final course of action hasn’t been determined. When operational, the bypass over airport property will allow for the removal of temporary above ground piping throughout the neighborhood and restoration of two-way traffic.
Picozzi pointed out that American Rescue Plan Act funding is being used for city infrastructure improvements. Solitro said the break would not be covered by insurance.
As to what it might cost, he said “I don’t think it’s going to be huge.”
Aware of the poor condition of Lake Shore Drive Picozzi said he had hoped to give the road an overlay of new asphalt before this incident and plans to do so following completion of the repairs. He said Wednesday he is fearful of doing any road work at this point as the impact of heavy equipment could further damage the “fragile” infrastructure.
“It’s a nightmare,” he said of the break.
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