Tidewater’s Lewes wastewater treatment plant problems surface again

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Problems continued at the Lewes wastewater treatment plant this week.

Although the plant is currently back online and has resumed normal treatment of effluent, officials asked the public to continue practicing water conservation while corrective measures continue. Shellfish restrictions have also been announced.

Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control staff were sent to the Lewes wastewater treatment plant after Tidewater Utilities notified the Department that the facility was once again forced to bypass stages of its treatment and discharge partially-treated effluent into the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal late Wednesday night.

The bypass lasted two hours while Tidewater operators worked to find a solution for problems with new treatment membranes. By 11:45 p.m. Wednesday Tidewater was able to end the bypass and resume normal treatment of effluent at the wastewater treatment plant.

DNREC has monitored the plant’s operations and Tidewater Utilities’ continued efforts to deal with recent malfunctions.

The Lewes plant discharged partially-treated wastewater from Dec. 18-28 after a system malfunction caused contamination of the plant’s treatment membranes that filter wastewater.

New membranes were installed on Dec. 28, enabling full treatment to resume at that time, but Tidewater reported that pressure build-up behind the new membranes required a bypass to avoid compromising their use.

Tidewater, in consultation with the membrane manufacturer, has instituted new operational protocols to minimize pressure build-up moving forward, with no further bypass events expected by plant operators.

Tidewater also informed DNREC that an additional set of refurbished membranes are ready to be put back into service later Thursday to help alleviate strain on the new treatment unit.

DNREC Secretary Shawn M. Garvin confirmed Monday that an environmental violation had occurred when the Lewes plant bypassed normal treatment operations between Dec. 18-28 because of the malfunction, and that DNREC is currently gathering pertinent information before determining actions.

DNREC can levy financial penalties.

Department staff will continue to monitor the situation at the plant daily as Tidewater Utilities works toward maintaining consistent treatment of effluent without further malfunctions.

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