National Rural Water Association
2915 S. 13th Street
Duncan, OK 73533
580-252-0629 FAX 580-255-4476
Contact: Chris Wilson, firstname.lastname@example.org
September 19, 2008
Rural water responds to small town's call for help
MAURICEVILLE, Texas – Snapped power poles lay across the road south of China, Texas, splintered by a tornado spun off by Hurricane Ike. One pole lays across the crumpled fence at the China wastewater treatment plant, snapped wires and broken transformers littering the ground.
“Ike was mad,” said Edward Burrell, Operator of the China water system. “Half the poles in south China are lying on the road and, at the plant, every roof has been blown off.”
China, a community of 1,100 west of Beaumont, lost power as Ike came ashore Saturday. The community was prepared for the storm’s impact on their drinking water supply and never lost service. The system had planned for power loss and also filled one of their water towers and closed the valve so it wouldn’t be wasted on leaks.
“We still had a generator from the first hurricane,” Burrell explained. “We fired it up and never lost service.”
Ike wasn’t as kind to China’s wastewater system. The power supply was destroyed and several storage buildings destroyed.
“We’ve been using a trash pump to move the waste from our lift station to this basin,” explained China Mayor William T. “Butch” Sanders. “If we let this basin overflow we’ll violate our permits. The system will go septic and we’ll have to restart the system.”
China operates an activated sludge plant to treat their sewage – they use microbes to consume the solid waste in their storage basin. The system requires air to be pumped into the basin so the microbes can survive, and the air pumps require power. If the system goes without air too long, the sewage has to be hauled out and the system completely restarted.
“I called Emergency Management and told them I need FEMA and Red Cross to come in,” Sanders said. “They told me no.”
Sanders then contacted his congressman and USDA, since his water system was built with a USDA loan. USDA sent the information to the Texas Rural Water Association, who uses USDA funds to support technical assistance programs. The TRWA response team dispatched a generator to China, even though the system is not a TRWA member.
“We don’t do that during a disaster,” said Tommy Duck, Executive Director of the TRWA. “We won’t turn a small utility away because they’re not a member.”
The response team restored power to the treatment plant, but that wasn’t the end to China’s problems.
“The sludge has settled out so much that it’s clogging the blower system,” explained Alex Eaves, TRWA Wastewater Technician.
Eaves and Wastewater Specialists Troy Hamburger and Tim Johnson from the Florida Rural Water Association brought in a pump system to break up the sludge so that the system could supply air to the basin.