Warwick, RI – Federal, State and City officials broke ground today on a $17 million upgrade of the Warwick Wastewater Treatment Facility at the site, including $3.6 million to raise the levee protecting it by five-and-a-half-feet.
When complete, the levee will be bolstered against 500-year flood levels, four years after the 200-year flood in March 2010 swamped the facility with 78 million gallons of water.
The 2010 flood shut down the wastewater system in Warwick. The Providence Journal reported Mayor Scott Avedisian ordered coin-operated laundries closed, and shut down local businesses’ restrooms until the sewer system was operating again.
Port-A-Johns were necessary at TF Green Airport, as Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) recalled during Monday morning’s groundbreaking.
“That’s not a great introduction to Rhode Island,” said Reed, who led the years-long effort to secure the project’s funding with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). Both senators praised the staff of the Wastewater Treatment Facility for their diligent, speedy effort to restore sewer service to the city following the flood.
“The heroes of this, of course, are the municipal employees,” Whitehouse said, “It was a wonderful demonstration of the very best we expect from our municipal employees.”
Curt Spalding, director of EPA Region One, said the flooded treatment plant’s quick recovery (it was operating again within a week but not up to full capacity for six months) serves as a lesson in assessing New England wastewater treatment plants.
“This is a significant day for the Sewer Authority,” said Avedisian. “The flood protection measures will help to address past vulnerabilities at the facility and ensure that our residents and businesses are protected should another natural disaster occur.”
The WSA will also use $11.5 million to add a treatment process to remove phosphorous from wastewater. The new process will significantly reduce the nutrient discharged into the Pawtuxet River. High levels of phosphorous can result in algae blooms, which reduce the amount of oxygen in water. Low water oxygen levels can harm aquatic life and has resulted in fish kills in the past.
“I thank our Congressional delegation for securing the levee funding and all who have worked so patiently with the Authority on both of these issues,” said Avedisian. “I must also recognize Janine Burke and (Fire) Chief Edmund Armstrong, who worked tirelessly on the FEMA grant application.”