Major GWA Sewer Line Broke 11 Days Ago, U.S. EPA Informed Late; Public Not Informed

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Guam – The Guam Waterworks Authority failed to publicly disclosed a major break in a 36-inch diameter sewer line that occurred nearly two weeks ago.  The event did not become publicly known until the U.S. EPA in Honolulu issued a release Saturday to the media on Guam.

The break is located in a jungle area across the road from the Southern Link Sewage Lift Station in Dededo. It is not far from the Northern Wastewater Treatment plant and leis about a quarter mile north of the Ukudu Workforce Village.  The break did not occur in a residential or commercial area.

When contacted for an explanation Saturday, GWA’s Communications Director Heidi Ballendorf said “No one told me.”

Later, after she had confirmed the break with other GWA officials, Ballendorf was asked when the break occurred and she said “About 1 week ago.” And later, “September 21,” which is 11 days ago.

Ballendorf emphasized that it was GWA that reported the sewer line break to U.S. EPA.  GWA is required to report such breaks to the U.S. EPA.

And, according  to the U.S. EPA, GWA was tardy in reporting the leak to them. “GWA’s delay in reporting the break and its lack of timely response has exposed the public to untreated sewage,”  states Alexis Strauss who is the Pacifc Southwest’s Water Director for the U.S. EPA.

“This is a major break, with the potential for a large volume of raw sewage to leach into the ground or flood the road,” states Strauss. Adding, “they need to move as fast as possible to fix this public health hazard.”

GWA has built a lined pond and trench to collect the leaking sewage for transport and treatment at the Northern Wastewater plant.

U.S. EPA is requiring GWA to maintain that pond and trench and to treat the sewage until the force main is fixed.

A force main is a pressurized pipe  which carries sewage from residences, as well as commercial and industrial sources, to a wastewater treatment plant.  Because force mains operate under pressure, even a small break can result in a large spill and a lengthy repair job.

The U.S. EPA has issued a compliance order requiring GWA to take immediate steps to repair the broken sewer main. That order requires:

* GWA must fix the force main break within 2 weeks and eliminate any wastewater spills resulting from it.

* GWA must ensure all wastewater is contained and properly treated.

* GWA must monitor a nearby drinking water well for the impact of the spilled sewage.

* GWA must post signs warning the public of the sewage spill and creation of a barricade to prevent the public from entering areas contaminated by sewage. 

* GWA must submit plans to EPA for repairing or replacing the force main.

* GWA must submit to U.S. EPA by the end of October,  its emergency response and cleanup procedures addressing any future sewage spills.

* GWA, from now on, must submit monthly spill reports on all sewage spills, along with notice to Guam EPA and EPA of all spills greater than 100 gallons.

In addition, the U.S. EPA release expresses concern that truck traffic will exacerbate the break and result in a complete failure of the force main.