Our utilities and infrastructure are all connected, and there’s probably no time it’s more obvious than during an extreme weather event.
Take stormwater infrastructure, for example. Extreme flows in rivers can wash out bridges, flooding can damage electrical equipment and lead to power outages, or cause combined sewer overflows in areas where storm- and wastewater are sent through the same pipes.
But there are other ways heavy rainfall and stormwater can cause sewage pipes to overflow. When rainfall is heavy enough and the soil is saturated enough, stormwater can force its way into old or cracked sewage pipes and cause spills. Which is exactly what happened in North Carolina last week.
In Johnston County, NC, rainwater and stormwater infiltrated into wastewater pipes and caused a 640,000-gallon sewage spill last Friday, wrote The Johnston County Report. According to the Report, an 8.76 million gallons of sewage escaped during Hurricane Matthew in 2016,which was also blamed on extreme weather and flooding. Johnston received more than 5 ½ inches of rain last week, reported the Raleigh-based newspaper The News & Observer, which caused stormwater to get into the wastewater system.
In Charleston, SC, where Dorian knocked out power to 270,000 homes last week, another utility service came into play. On Friday, the local water and sewer utility had 45 out of 163 pump stations without power, reported The Post & Courrier yesterday. Although in this case the pumps that failed were sewer pumps, many communities use pumps to manage stormwater as well. In Orange County, FL, officials used stormwater pumps to lower the water level in retaining ponds ahead of Hurricane Dorian. Pumps can play an important role in keeping stormwater in retention ponds and out of the streets during heavy flow events but if power is lost, there’s no way to move the water.
Stormwater, electric, and wastewater utilities all play important and interdependent roles in keeping citizens and their property safe. A failure of one can lead to a failure in any of the others, compounding the struggle for recovery after a natural disaster or extreme weather event.
Do you have experience with extreme weather events? In what ways do you think the interdependence of our utilities could be better highlighted? Send your thoughts and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.