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Temporary fix to Bethany-Warr Acres wastewater treatment issue springs a leak

A small cinderblock building with the words "Bethany-Warr Acres Main Lift Station/ Bluff Creek Water Pollution Control Facility" on its side. It's behind a high fence topped with barbed wire and a little hill of medium-sized gray rocks.
Graycen Wheeler
The Bethany-Warr Acres Bluff Creek Water Treatment Plant sits near NW 192nd St and Meridian Ave in Edmond.

The Bethany-Warr Acres Bluff Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant was found to be leaking untreated sewage into Bluff Creek over ten days ago. Over the weekend, temporary pipes carrying the wastewater to a nearby facility for treatment also sprang a leak.

The Bluff Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant handles sewage from Bethany and Warr Acres, but the facility is located in northwestern Oklahoma County, just west of Edmond city limits. It typically treats three million gallons of raw sewage a day.

After receiving a complaint from a community member, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality issued an emergency order to stop the plant from spilling waste into its namesake creek.

Until the Bethany-Warr Acres Public Works Authority can address the issue at its Bluff Creek Plant, it’s diverting its waste to Oklahoma City’s Deer Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant less than a mile away.

“Oklahoma City has stepped up in a big way, and have been good neighbors,” said Shellie Chard, the director of the DEQ’s Water Quality Division. "And really, they didn't have to do this. But it does protect the public health and the environment in their community.”

Oklahoma City operates four wastewater treatment plants across the metro area. Those plants are interconnected, so that if one needs to go offline for maintenance the others can pick up the slack.

Although Oklahoma City does not own or operate the Bluff Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, it offered to use its capacity to connect with other plants enabled to take on the extra waste.

A map shows Oklahoma City's Deer Creek Treatment Plant at NW 206th St and N Portland Ave; Bethany/Warr Acres's Bluff Creek Treatment Plant at NW 192nd St and N Meridian Ave (approximately 1 mile SW of the Deer Creek Plant); and the sewage spill from the temporary connection at NW 178th St and N Meridian Ave (approximately 1.25 miles SSW of the Bluff Creek Plant)
Graycen Wheeler
The Bluff Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant sits in unincorporated Oklahoma County, about 7 miles north of Lake Hefner and just west of Edmond city limits.

Without the temporary connection to the Deer Creek Plant, Chard said this situation would be much more dire.

“You start looking at a completely different scale of emergency response,” Chard said. “It's going to be much more costly, much more labor intensive and more difficult to protect public health and the environment.”

The solution hit a hiccup over the weekend when the temporary pipes carrying sewage to the Deer Creek Plant sprang a leak. Sewage seeped from the pipe near 178th and Meridian; a nearby manhole also overflowed into a field.

“We do not believe and we did not see that it was going into the creek,” Chard said. “It was overflowing onto the ground.”

Chard guessed that rain, strong wind or a clog in the line may have caused the disruption. The temporary connection was quickly repaired and hasn’t had any more problems since then.

The Bluff Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant has a history of serious non-compliance with the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules for treating and monitoring sewage, including failure to complete required construction. Chard said she didn’t know whether the recent equipment failure had to do with any of those violations.

“Two of our experienced wastewater engineers were out last week beginning that investigation—evaluating the equipment, looking at laboratory records, maintenance records,” Chard said. “We are still very much in that investigative phase.”

For now, Bethany and Warr Acres’s sewage is contained and has somewhere to go.

“Oklahoma City has said that they will allow the emergency connection as long as needed—but of course, within reason,” Chard said. “This can't be a years-long kind of thing.”

Chard said that Bethany and Warr Acres are contacting remediation companies to clean up the spilled waste and limit environmental damage. The facility has also begun work on its faulty equipment, but the timeline and projected costs for those repairs are unclear.

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Graycen Wheeler is a reporter covering water issues at KOSU as a corps member with Report for America.
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