WEWAHITCHKA, Fla. – Hurricane Michael left the city of Wewahitchka, Fla. completely without water and wastewater service when it made landfall on October 10th. Assistance from the Florida Rural Water Association helped restore service to the damaged community.
“We were down and down hard,” said Michael Gortman, city administrator for Wewahitchka. “We had no power. We lost water out of our elevated storage tank.”
The hurricane damaged the roads in the area, delaying any assistance to the community.
“October 12th was the first day we could get in,” said Scott Phillips, an FRWA wastewater training technician. “All the highways in the area were closed until the Department of Transportation could make repairs.”
Once FRWA staff reached Wewahitchka, the first priority was to bring in emergency generators. Once the system had power, crews could begin working to make other repairs.
“They wanted to wait until they had a generator for each lift station, but I told them everybody needed generators,” Phillips explained. “I trained them to rotate the generators and pumps at the lift stations. You pump out the stations closest to the sewage plant and work out.”
Most wastewater collection systems rely on gravity, but in certain areas, the lack of elevation requires the system use a lift station to pump wastewater into the next part of the system. When these lift stations are not functioning, they can overflow into the environment or back up into homes. Emergency response often includes supplying these stations with emergency generators or with bypass pumps to maintain their function.
“The best thing is to get the stations operating as quickly as possible,” Phillips said. “The longer you wait the more wastewater builds up.”
The recovery efforts were also complicated by an ATV accident that injured several Wewahitchka city officials, including the mayor and fire chief.
“They had to be taken to the hospital,” Phillips said. “It certainly slowed things down.”
Once the system had emergency power, Rural Water began addressing other problems.
“They started doing leak detection, so we could make repairs and keep water pressure,” Gortman said.
Wewahitchka also started seeing grit and debris from the storm surge showing up at the sewage treatment plant.
“They were getting grit in their effluent, so we used one of our vacuum trucks to start cleaning debris out of the lift stations,” Phillips said.
FRWA soon had the Wewahitchka water and wastewater operating at normal, even if on emergency power. It was a feat that would be difficult without Rural Water’s assistance.
“They were miracle workers,” Gortman said. “They helped with a little bit of everything.”