Something smells in Calera Foul odors signal sewer problems

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 13, 2004

As Calera prepares to break ground on two new sewer projects, some residents have complained about foul odors emanating from the city’s only existing sewage facility.

Calera public works officials said Monday they have spent thousands of dollars on deodorizing chemicals to reduce the smell from the Calera wastewater treatment plant, located behind the Heart of Dixie Railroad Museum.

Doug Smedley, superintendent of the plant for six years, said the facility only recently exceeded limits allowed by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for certain compounds.

Some of these compounds lead to an excess of hydrogen sulfide at the facility, which Smedley said produces a bad smell.

Current system overcapacity

Currently, Calera has a sewage treatment capacity of 750,000 gallons per day. The original facility was built in 1960, with additions in 1985.

Once the city’s sewage treatment upgrade is completed, its total capacity will be five million gallons per day.

In the meantime, Smedley said the city treats up to 1.5 million gallons per day following a rain &045; twice the city’s maximum capacity.

The foul odors some residents have complained about is one result of that excess, he said.

For the past two years, Smedley said the city has averaged about 1 million gallons of sewage treated per day.

&uot;The system has just kind of reached its limit,&uot; Smedley said.

Water threats

In particular, Calera has exceeded ADEM’s permitted levels of suspended solids and nutrient discharge. When violations occur, Smedley said, ADEM knows about it.

&uot;We inform ADEM every time we have a problem,&uot; he said. &uot;ADEM knows where we are and what we are doing.&uot;

Treated sewage is released into Buxahatchee Creek, located adjacent to the Calera waste water treatment plant.

The creek is listed on ADEM’s 303(d) list of impaired waterways, a provision of the federal Clean Water Act. Buxahatchee Creek feeds into Lay Lake.

Once the impaired waters are identified, Section 303(d) requires each state to establish total daily maximum loads (TMDLs) which will meet water quality standards for each listed water.

On Monday, a dark stream of treated sewage flowed from the Calera wastewater treatment plant into the muddy waters of the Buxahatchee Creek. Smedley said the sewage should be clearer and that the dark tint is a sign of high levels of suspended solids, a compound monitored by ADEM.

According to Rusty Wright, fisheries extension specialist at the Auburn University Fisheries Department, nutrient-type pollutants from sewage discharges can lead to algae blooms that deprive the water of oxygen. Fish kills sometimes result from such situations, Wright said.

Also, Wright said sewage discharge can lead to human health problems such as diarrhea and parasitic infections.

Future actions

So far, ADEM has not imposed any enforcement actions against the city.

&uot;We’re already doing what they would order us to do anyway,&uot; Smedley said, referring to the city’s upcoming sewage treatment upgrades.

Last week, ADEM spokesman Clint Niemeyer confirmed that ADEM was looking into problems at the Calera sewage treatment facility.

&uot;It seems like Calera is experiencing some problems. We are doing some investigating of their compliance history,&uot; Niemeyer said. &uot;The department is looking at all operational aspects of that plant.&uot;

One enforcement possibility is a moratorium on increased sewage until the facility achieves ADEM’s acceptable discharge limits.

&uot;Depending on what we find, it could possibly lead to an enforcement situation &045; depending on (the city’s) actions,&uot; Niemeyer said.

So far, Niemeyer said, Calera officials are cooperating.

&uot;We do try to be deliberate about this. We look at all angles before taking enforcement action,&uot; he said.

Project delays

One problem has been delays with the start of construction for the city’s sewage upgrades.

According to Smedley, the city’s new sewage system was supposed to have been in place for a year now.

However, since ADEM had not completed a TMDL study for Buxahatchee Creek last year, Smedley said final designs for the city’s sewage treatment upgrades were delayed.

While Calera officials contend that completion of the Buxahatchee Creek study caused the project’s delay, the city has also encountered funding obstacles.

The city recently received an additional $3.2 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help fund the sewage expansion.

The loan came in addition to an $8 million grant and partial loan the city received in 2003 from the USDA.

When bids were returned for construction of the city’s 3-million-gallon north end wastewater treatment plant which will be constructed near Camp Branch on Alabama Highway 70, Calera officials said the price was higher than estimated because of the rising cost of steel.

While Smedley said he has received several complaints about the smell coming from the sewage treatment plant, he said the situation is improving and that the sewage system upgrade will help.

&uot;It should continue to get better. The calls have reduced,&uot; he said. &uot;Once the construction program is completed, it will be gone.&uot;

Calera Mayor George Roy said he is also aware of the odor problems from the sewage plant.

He said he expects to award contract bids for the city’s new sewage treatment projects this month.

According to Roy, the total construction project could take a year to complete