The City of Worcester issued a public health advisory on Sunday after untreated wastewater was released into Lake Quinsigamond.
A failure in Worcester’s Lake Ave Sewer Pumping Station flooded the facility and prevented the pumps from operating, according to a press release from City Manager Edward Augustus, Jr. The city said its Department of Public Works Sewers Divisions and contractors worked to resolve the issue.
City officials are warning people not to use the lake for recreational activities such as ice fishing in the vicinity of the pumping station and to the south of it until further notice. The health advisory was issued as a precaution.
The effected pumping station -- located at 83 Lake Ave. -- is the largest capacity station in the city typically pumping 3 million gallons of sewage per day, with a capacity to handle up to 20 million gallons per day.
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The problem first began on the morning of Feb. 6 when a leak on a wastewater pipe flooded the dry well portion of the station — the area that houses pumps, motors, electrical equipment and controls — causing the system’s pumps to stop. At 5:45 p.m. on Feb. 7, a pump at the station was successfully re-started, bringing an end to the wastewater overflow into the lake, according to a Friday statement from a spokesperson for the city's office manager.
With the pump station out of service for 36 hours, it is estimated that 4 million gallons of untreated wastewater entered the lake, the spokesperson said. Tanker trucks that were called into assist prevented another 473,500 gallons of overflow.
City employees are continuing to monitor the aftereffects of the untreated wastewater that flowed into the lake earlier this week, but officials said Friday they do not anticipate any significant long-term issues for public recreation or wildlife.
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The public health advisory remains in place, however, acceptable bacteria levels are expected to be reached within several days and have no lasting effects on spring and summer recreational activities, the spokesperson said.
The city office manager's spokesperson said an emergency bypass pump system is being installed to help prevent similar issues in the future. It will serve as an external backup pump system for use in emergencies or for planned shutdowns needed for maintenance and repairs. Officials expect the bypass system to be operational by the end of the week.
The city’s Department of Inspectional Services is conducting water quality sampling, despite challenges from the current lake ice conditions. This will continue until the laboratory results conclude acceptable bacteria levels for recreational activities.
The Department of Sustainability and Resilience has also been monitoring the situation closely and doesn't foresee long-term impacts for the health of the lake. They expect the wastewater to dissipate, without gathering on the bottom of the lake, creating additional warm weather algae blooms, or causing large fish die-off. Staff will continue to sample, test, and monitor in the coming days and weeks to come to ensure the lake recovers quickly as expected.
MassDEP has also been closely monitoring the city’s response, including follow-up on sample collection.