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Wastewater giving homeowners headache

(Feb. 20, 2015) One of the problems with treated wastewater effluent is that it needs to be put somewhere. Finding the right place to do that seems to be the second problem.

The VanVonno family knows that perhaps better than most. When they moved into their home, they knew the county had an easement for injection wells servicing the Mystic Harbour Wastewater treatment plant. The family didn’t know how often those wells would fail.

A variety of issues are blamed for the failures, the age of the pipes being first among many complaints, and as the VanVonnos are looking to sell their property, they would like the problem solved. The county has been aware of the situation since at least 2012, when a study concluded it would be possible to move the injection wells.

The wells could be moved, with Maryland Department of the Environment approval, closer to the treatment plant.

The wells are not the primary disposal method for the treated wastewater, but can service up to 30 percent of outflow according to county documents.

The VanVonnos complain of numerous leakages from the wells, up to and including standing “ponds” that they blame for killing flora, such as pine trees, on their property.

The preferred method of disposal of the effluent is spray irrigation. The Mystic Harbour plant has approval to begin spray irrigation at the Eagle’s Landing Golf course once the proper infrastructure is completed. That would reduce the load on the wells and the treatment plant could begin operating at its full capacity.

The cost of moving the wells, according to the 2012 study, is roughly $260,000. That assumes, however, that the Maryland Department of Environment approves the relocation plan.

The county is not averse to moving the wells, but the problem becomes where to put them. The county is basing its work on the old study but also contracting an updated study from the same vendor, J.W. Salm Engineering, which will determine the exact number of wells, their spacing and capacity.

After updating the model, the results will be submitted to the Maryland Department of the Environment for a modification to the groundwater discharge permit at a cost of $26,300, according to a letter submitted by Public Works Director John Tustin.

Once that is approved, another $18,000 is proposed to be spent on the design documents and layout plan.

These costs are included with the original $260,000 estimate, according to Tustin.

Tustin estimates this work can be completed in 60 days, but said he wasn’t certain when the final approval to modify the discharge permit.

The location being investigated at this time is on the site of the plant itself. The number of wells would necessarily increase to provide the same volume available to the plant as already provided by the wells on the VanVonno property.

The impact on residents near the treatment plant is something else altogether.

Tustin provided a document to the commissioners noting 75 wells within one-half mile of the proposed site of the injection wells, which could end up tangling the process with the Department of Environment, if not with the residents using the nearby wells themselves.

The water and sewer committee has also been made aware of an issue concerning another lot containing injection wells.

In an e-mail sent to the committee by Assistant Finance Officer Jennifer Swanton, she warns there are two lots involved in the issue, and two problems evident. First, “I’m not sure we have the right to put Lot 440 (VanVonno’s) injection wells onto Lot 439 … and second, “If we agree to move Lot 440 injection wells, we will set a [precedent] to have the [that owner] demand the Lot 439 wells be relocated also.”

The problem remains that the effluent must go somewhere, and Eagle’s Landing simply cannot hold 100 percent of the treated effluent when it is available for spraying. During the winter months, spray irrigation is counterproductive.

The county commissioners on Feb. 3 voted to refer the issue back to the water and sewer committee for review, which is expected to be discussed at the next regular meeting, delayed by snow to Feb. 19.


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