“They say it could be another Hurricane Floyd,” the locals started to murmur about Hurricane Florence early in the week after Labor Day in September 2018. While bread and bottled water steadily disappeared from grocery store shelves in southeastern North Carolina, others remained skeptical. Many still remembered the widespread flooding following the hurricane of 1999. The National Weather Service tagged Floyd a “500-year storm;” what were the odds of such a disaster happening again in less than 20 years?
As the storm continued its slow march across the Atlantic, the forecast became more certain and more ominous. Officials at the Onslow County Water and Sewer Authority (ONWASA), including Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Hudson and the leadership team, enacted their emergency protocols to prepare and protect their utility assets from the coming wind and rain. Pre-storm efforts included securing additional supplies of treatment chemicals and spare parts, preparing and pre-staging damage assessment teams to help identify critical assets in need of repair after the storm, and preparing portable bulk tanks for the distribution of water in hard-hit areas. It was a drill they knew well. Located in coastal Onslow County, the utility had seen its fair share of extreme weather events over the years. Founded in 2005, ONWASA provides water and sewer services to over 140,000 customers across a 445 square mile area with 149 facilities. Getting so many assets ready for a storm of this magnitude was no small feat.
In 2017, ONWASA hired WK Dickson to help evaluate and improve operations at the Northwest Regional Water Reclamation Facility (Northwest Plant) in Richlands. Completed in 2015, this facility is a sequencing batch reactor (SBR) biological nutrient removal wastewater treatment plant with a permitted treatment capacity of 2.0 MGD and a disposal capacity of 1.0 MGD with a reclaim component. Through that project, WK Dickson’s team of engineers and licensed wastewater treatment plant operators helped ONWASA streamline the plant’s processes and develop a Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) manual so it could be maintained as economically and as simply as possible. As Hurricane Florence drew ever closer, the Northwest Plant appeared to be in good position to handle a major storm event. But no one could predict the devastation to come.
To learn more about the damages the plant incurred, the effort by many to bring the plant back online, and the plans being put in place to prepare for the next disaster, read the full article written by Jimmy Holland and Angie Mettlen and published in the 2019 Summer issue of SCAWWA WEASC Journal.