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Sewage spill on Christmas Eve the result of wipes and rags clogging pipes: town official

‘It seems to me that our residents could play a role in assuring that this kind of event doesn’t happen again,’ says Collingwood councillor
2021-01-11 Toilet JO-001

The flushing of rags and wipes are what led to an overflow at the wastewater treatment facility in Collingwood on Christmas Eve.

During Monday night’s strategic initiatives standing committee meeting, Director of Public Works, Engineering, and Environmental Services Peggy Slama gave an update to councillors on an event they were alerted to at the facility on Dec. 24, which saw a digester overflow with partially digested sludge.

“We had, what was described as, a catastrophic event at the wastewater treatment plant over the holidays,” said Coun. Kathy Jeffery.

According to Slama’s summary, on Dec. 24 an alarm was triggered at the town's wastewater treatment plant. When a staff member arrived, they found the sludge digestion process had stalled.

A septage hauler was called in to vacuum and clean out some of the lines. An additional operator was also called in to assist. While the hauler was assessing the lines, there was a pressurization issue in a second digester.

“When that occurred, some partially digested sludge seeped between the wall and the roof of that digester and reached the ground on-site. A second septage hauler was then called into the plant. While one cleaned the pipes, the other was cleaning the sludge,” said Slama. “They worked all night to minimize the situation and contain it as best they could.”

Slama said about 100 cubic metres of partially digested sludge escaped the digester. Most of it was contained on-site, but she noted it did approach the south end of the site close to the trail system. Portions of the trail were closed as a proactive measure. She said the sludge also approached the creek and drainage ditch on the east side of the property.

Slama said it was discovered that rags and wipes had plugged up the lines, which had led to the overflow.

Coun. Deb Doherty asked that more communication be provided to residents on the dangers of flushing rags and wipes.

“It seems to me that our residents could play a role in assuring that this kind of event doesn’t happen again,” said Doherty. “They need to be very cognizant of what they flush down the toilet. So-called ‘flushable wipes’ are not easily flushable and certainly aren’t well digestible in our wastewater system.”

Looking forward, Slama said her department may recommend running cameras through the pipes as part of routine maintenance to identify potential clogs before they cause a major problem.

Coun. Jeffery asked if councillors could be alerted to such events as they happen, as opposed to after-the-fact once they had already been dealt with, which she said was the case in this instance.

She also asked for a timeline for a staff report that could outline what the response might cost the municipality.

“In this case, we found out once everything had been handled, but we didn’t really have an understanding of what duress staff and our assets were under,” said Jeffery.

Slama said maintenance work had been slated to be done on Digester 2 as part of the approved 2022 budget, to the tune of $200,000. She said typically, routine maintenance is done on each digester every five years.

“This event has really fast-tracked that work on Digester 2. The good news is, we had a budget set aside for some of this, but because of the overpressurization, we’re going to have to start with something that wasn’t accounted for,” she said.