Raw Sewage Leaks Into Wicomico River

SALISBURY — More than 100,000 gallons of sewage leaked into the Wicomico River this week but shouldn’t have much in the way of long-term impact, according to city officials.

“It’s been a very finite area where it hit the surface,” said Public Works Director Teresa Gardner.

According to Gardner, a Sanitary Sewer Overflow (SSO) at the Southside Pumping Station began at approximately 2 p.m. on Tuesday and lasted until about 7:45 p.m.

Though the actual overflow has ceased, Mayor Jim Ireton warned Wednesday that “the event is not over.” Public Works’ crews were still on-site as of Wednesday afternoon cleaning up the overflow and filtering any debris that may have gotten into the river. Tankers were used to pump wastewater from manholes and transport it to the Northside Pumping Station to alleviate the volume overflowing while a bypass pump was also installed to help handle the load.

The actual overflow was triggered because recent major rain events had clogged the system and “created intense inflow and infiltration” by piling up trash, debris and “grit” within the pumps. Much of the debris was evident as the river was screened, prompting Ireton to call on city residents to be careful what they send into the sewage system.

He included a “Do Not Flush” list at his press conference which contains baby wipes, even “biodegradable” ones, rags, towels, clothing, ropes, wires, belts and diapers.

“We’re going to have to do a better job as a city moving forward,” said Ireton.

When asked about the cost that the overflow and cleanup will represent for the town, both Ireton and Gardner said it is “too soon to tell” what the final figure will be, but that it should become available in the near future.

As bad as 100,000-plus gallons of sewage going into the river sounds, Ireton stressed that “historically, this is very, very small.” He explained that past overflows have reached into the millions of gallons and that Tuesday’s incident isn’t expected to cause much lasting harm.

For safety’s sake, the city has posted “No Swimming or Fishing” signage along the river, which is expected to stay in place at least a few days.

“Don’t swim and don’t fish until we tell you,” advised Ireton.

In an attempt to prevent future issues, the city outlined a plan to install a debris grinding mechanism at pump stations, conform to a daily preventative maintenance checklist, and to increase public outreach.