Bracing for Hurricane Joaquin's Impact

Municipalities prepare for the worst as Hurricane Joaquin is expected to bring heavy rains along the Eastern Seaboard
Bracing for Hurricane Joaquin's Impact
Photo courtesy of the National Weather Service.

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Whether Hurricane Joaquin hits land or stays out to sea, flooding is expected to impact over 65 million from South Carolina to Massachusetts, according to an AccuWeather report issued on Thursday, Oct. 1. In response to the anticipated strong winds and coastal flooding, governors in Virginia, New Jersey and North Carolina have all issued a state of emergency.

As municipalities prepare to take on the stormwater associated with an event of this scale, some are looking back in order to best prepare for the unknowns still to come. According to John McGregor, operations manager with the Lakewood Township Municipal Utilities Authority (MUA) in New Jersey, some of the most useful lessons come from direct experience.

“We certainly got a test with Hurricane Sandy, as did most of the Eastern Seaboard back in 2012,” he says, noting that he and a fellow co-worker pulled an all-nighter in order to mitigate any issues that came up during that emergency. “What we learned from that obviously was to be prepared and not take things like that lightly, because we hadn’t been hit by a storm of that magnitude in a number of years. ... It was a wake-up call.”

Preparing for the worst
McGregor is expecting to contend with both heavy rains and winds, which means a good possibility of power outages. In order to make sure the authority's water system — consisting of two water treatment plants, five water storage tanks and 14 wells — is ready for the storm and its effects, he says paying close attention to everything that can be done in advance is crucial.

“You prepare for the worst and hope for the best,” he says. “The first major thing is making sure our personnel are all on standby and making sure that all our on-site generators are fueled up and topped off,” he says, adding that they are also making sure their portable generators have fuel and vehicles are ready to go.

Although Wally Hansen, public services director with the City of Jacksonville, North Carolina, says he is thankful to see that it appears the hurricane will not directly hit his area, what’s most concerning about the storm is all of the rain they are currently receiving in addition to what’s been forecasted. As of Friday morning, he notes they have received roughly 5 inches of rain within only 10 hours, and are anticipating another 5 to 8 inches over the next two days.

There are 45 wastewater lift stations in their system, and they average about 5.8 million gallons per day, Hansen says. During heavy rain events, they see peaks in upwards of 15 million gallons per day. As a coastal community, Jacksonville has inflow and infiltration to worry about along with higher groundwater tables.

“Other than monitoring our stations and making sure they’re cycling as they should, we know where the sensitive areas are, so we focus on those,” he says. “Right now we are pretty much just making sure that we move the water along.”

Planned precautions
Checking to be sure the lift stations are operating as they should is important. Jacksonville has lead pumps and lag pumps if the wet well starts rising, as well as a high wet well alarm that sends an alert as water levels rise. “We can send staff there if the station does not look like it is performing as it should,” Hansen says. “We also send staff to make sure that we don’t have anything clogging the pumps or the outlet pipes.”

The city has one major station that handles all the wastewater in their system, and they also have a basin that can hold approximately 2 million gallons that can be utilized as temporary storage if the storm peak exceeds what they can handle. Once that peak passes, the wastewater can be pumped out of the basin and back through the system to the treatment plant.

Another unique aspect of their wastewater system, Hansen points out, is that they are a land application site, so they irrigate 7,200 acres using 21,000 spray nozzles. “Unfortunately, when it’s this wet we aren’t able to irrigate, which means we have to hold all of the wastewater in our storage lagoons,” he says, “and we have about 700 million gallons worth of storage in our storage lagoons.” This provides sufficient storage, but it can present a challenge if several major storms hit in succession.

On the water system side, which contains 35 wells and a water treatment plant, the average daily demand is 3.5 to 3.8 million gallons per day. Hansen says there aren’t any significant concerns in that realm because the supply comes from deep well aquifers, so there’s no surface treatment or runoff to worry about.

“We have a pretty stable water system, but we also have generators at many of our well sites and at our water treatment plant,” he says. “Should we go a significant period without power, we are still able to fill our water tanks and run our water treatment plants off of generator power.”


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