We’ve said it before: if it weren’t for MSD, we’d be wading in waste. Before the treatment plant on Riverside Drive in Woodfin came online in 1967, untreated wastewater was discharged directly into local waterways. Large, sudden discharges can be serious: Last April, a massive sewage spill in Gatlinburg, Tenn., killed two workers and sent millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Little Pigeon River. Even the smaller spills can result in fish kills and other environmental damage, and can have negative health impacts.
The agency’s service area covers about 180 square miles; some 960 miles of sewer lines collect wastewater from an estimated 125,000 users in Asheville, Biltmore Forest, Black Mountain, Montreat, Weaverville, Woodfin and unincorporated areas. Perhaps the biggest single challenge is getting sewage to the treatment plant without losing any en route. In 1990, MSD assumed ownership of a hodgepodge of smaller local collection systems; many of the pipes were between 50 and 100 years old and in dire need of replacement. Since then, the utility has undertaken an aggressive program to correct the inherited problems, and it’s made a considerable fiscal investment in the upgrades. Even so, the system overflowed 32 times last year — although that’s down considerably from the 288 releases tallied in 2000.
Sanitary sewer overflows (SSOs) are accidental discharges that typically come during big storms. “The lines get so much [stormwater] coming in, they can’t handle any more. [If] the pipes aren’t large enough to handle that much flow … it’s gonna come out a manhole cover,” System Services Coordinator Ken Stines tells Xpress. But the rate of SSOs is down again this year compared to 2010: there were 24 spills in 2011, according to the MSD report, which covers the period between July 1, 2010, and June 30 of this year.
Cleaning up the water we all flush down the drain involves a reclamation process, and MSD measures its performance in part by the concentration of suspended solids in the water it “reclaims” during the treatment process. The utility removed 93 percent of the total suspended solids in its wastewater stream in the assessment period (up slightly from 90 and 91 percent in the previous two years); meantime, it maintained perfect compliance with the requirements of its state permit for allowable discharges into local air and water. (Air discharges occur when the utility incinerates the solid waste extracted during the treatment process.)
In 2011, for the eleventh year in a row, MSD won a National Association of Clean Water Agencies Peak Performance Award for excellence in environmental protection.
Read the full report here.