At least 13 New Brunswick communities were forced to divert raw sewage into local rivers and streams after power was lost to lift stations thanks to the widespread outages caused by post-tropical storm Arthur.
Sewage pumping stations are built with an overflow in case there is a complete loss of power.
However, that overflow, by design, leads straight to rivers and streams.
Several municipalities, including Fredericton, Saint John and Quispamsis, had lift stations fail during the massive rain and wind storm over the weekend.
Unofficial list of communities reporting sewage bypass issues:
- Saint John
- Grand-Bay Westfield
- Grand Falls
- Oromocto/CFB Gagetown
- St. Stephen
Gary Losier, the engineering director for the Town of Quispamsis, said there was sewage overflow after power was lost to sewer lift stations on Gondola Point Road.
He said damage was mitigated when town staff set up a bucket-brigade of vacuum trucks to carry sewage to a working section.
"We had four of them running in ferries for us, basically they would go from whatever station was affected. Go out from the lowest one bring it back up to whatever was working so we could try to keep ahead of it while we could," he said.
Losier said five lift stations failed at various points during the power outage, one of them for 30 hours.
"For us the bulk of the issues occurred from an overflow perspective, really only during the peak rainfall events,” he said.
“Once the rain was over the stations managed to get caught up. And then we were really only dealing with those stations that were impacted by the power outages."
Lisa Harrity, a spokesperson for the Department of Environment and Local Government, said there are two types of sewage events that can happen: sewage overflow and sewage bypass.
A sewage overflow event happens when there is too much water in the systems and the pumps cannot keep up with the water. The extra water and sewage is diverted in a diluted form to local rivers and streams.
In these situations, the lift station or treatment plant is still working and is continuing to process sewage and water in some form.
The other possible scenario is a sewage bypass event. A sewage bypass happens when a lift station or treatment facility is not working and all flow is diverted untreated to the environment.
Harrity said these events happen for a variety of reasons, such as power failures or equipment malfunctions.
Sewage bypasses must be reported immediately to the provincial government.
Sewage overflows must be recorded for duration and estimated flow. But the municipality only needs to send the provincial government that information in its annual report.
Newer stations have built-in generators that fire up automatically, ensuring uninterrupted service.
All the communities report there is no way to know exactly how much raw sewage escaped into nearby waterways during, and since, the storm.