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OperationsWater Quality

When the Unexpected Unfolds: Balancing Safety and Speed During Restoration

img_3275Anyone who has experienced flooding at home knows the basics of post-flood response.  First you have to make sure there are no hazards, such as electrical, gas, or other potential life-threatening conditions.  Then you have to remove water and debris, wash, sanitize, and dry flooded areas. Finally, damage assessment and repairs can be done.

At WTD, we are going through this same process, only on a much larger scale with the West Point Treatment Plant, where crews have made great progress as they work to restore this critical component of our clean-water infrastructure following a major equipment failure and flood.

When the February 9 storm hit, priorities switched from maintaining 14 years of award-winning permit compliance to restoring wastewater treatment quickly but safely.


Floodwaters have major force when storms push incoming flows to a rate of 450 million gallons/day:  here, water punched through a wall.

WTD followed a cautious, measured approach to assess hazards and ensure worker safety.  An industrial facility with major power usage means potential for deadly electrified water after a flood.


Don’t go there: electricity and water don’t mix.

Wastewater treatment processes affect air quality, but the flooded ventilation systems couldn’t help. Sophisticated air monitoring systems were incapacitated. Flooding damaged lighting systems in dark areas full of mechanical and electrical equipment. The fire monitoring system was washed out of commission.


Establishing interim life safety systems was the first- and highest- priority.  Temporary ventilation delivers fresh air throughout affected areas. Crews wear monitors to warn of air quality problems. Temporary lighting systems illuminate work areas and crews carry extra lighting. Fire wardens monitor underground areas. Safety inspections, reminders, meetings, and check-ins that have always been part of plant operations have never been more important.

Rigorous safety protocols, proper equipment, safety checks, and even making sure crews are rotated and rested all help protect our workers.

Once tunnels and rooms were pumped out, operations crews assessed flooded areas of West Point Treatment Plant. They knew they would find extensive, significant damage and that all hands on deck would be needed to address that damage.


Shining a light on what happened: at the height of the flood,  the high water line was above this door.


20170211_07290920170209_031510Tunnels measuring 12 by 12 feet and stretching for a mile underground were flooded and contaminated. After two days of dewatering, crews had to steam clean and disinfect all structures and equipment.

About 124 electric motors and 200 motor control centers will need to be replaced.  Another 124 flooded pumps will need to be rebuilt. Flooded electrical panels and electrical control stations will need to be replaced and rebuilt. Flooding impacted more than 2,000 light fixtures and 1,200 outlets and switches that will be replaced.


Clean, but nonfunctional.  The wiring in this and over 100 boxes needs to be replaced.

Crews have completed major cleanup operations throughout the plant. Workers have removed about 80 percent of all the various motors that might have been damaged as a result of the equipment failure and subsequent flooding in the plant. Crews are replacing 10 or more motors every day. Electrical panel replacement work is underway, with contractor teams working on the design and construction of the replacement panel structure.


When crews discovered damage to stored fluorescent lights, the type you might find in an office building, they knew that mercury could be present.  A contractor specializing in hazardous waste cleanup tested the water in the room and carried out cleanup.  Workers practiced an abundance of caution even though the apparent mercury levels were well below established exposure limits.


170222_wp_restoration-060When workers found mold growing on surfaces in areas with longer-standing water, the specialty contractor again provided service to clean up these areas.

These adaptive safety procedures help ensure our crews go home healthy- if tired- at the end of their shifts.

WTD is keeping people up to date and responding to questions and concerns


WTD Director Mark Isaacson is committed to keeping people informed throughout the restoration.

We know our region:  we care about the environment, our infrastructure investments, and our health.  People are engaged and want to be kept informed. WTD launched a comprehensive communications effort over multiple channels that we will update frequently as restoration work continues.


You can watch for updates here on the WTD blog or at the newsroom, visit the incident response page, sign up for email updates, and follow on social media:

Contact us with your questions and concerns at 206-477-5371 (after hours, leave message) or As we hear from you, we will update the Frequently Asked Questions posted on the incident response page.