Olney sewage spill tops million-gallon mark

John Aaron, wtop.com

OLNEY, Md. – Repair crews have found the source of a leak that has sent sewage pouring into a local creek since Tuesday.

A decades-old high-pressure sewer pipe ruptured Tuesday morning in Olney, spilling sewage into nearby Reddy Branch Creek.

The creek eventually leads to the Patuxent River as well as the Rocky Gorge Reservoir, which is used for drinking water.

The Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission said the break in the sewer main was located late Thursday afternoon. More excavation is needed and officials don’t know how long the repairs will take, the commission says in a statement.

Once the break is fixed, a nearby pumping station will begin operating again and will end the sewage overflow.

Commission spokesperson Kira Lewis says that as of Thursday morning, 1.5 million gallons of sewage have spilled at the site.

Signs just off Olney Mill Road warn of a “Sewage Overflow Area” and tell residents to avoid outdoor water contact. Still, WSSC says the spill does not threaten the drinking water supply right now.

The leak was difficult to locate. Crews have been working continuously, but progress has been slow because of the 20-foot depth of the pipe and because other utility lines lie near the pipe.

Unfortunately, million-gallon spills are not uncommon for the Patuxent, according to Patuxent Riverkeeper, Fred Tutman.

“If this river’s dying by death from a thousand cuts, here’s yet another cut,” he says, adding that WSSC is not the only entity to blame. “This only adds to the other burdens: the runoff from parking lots, the trash, the pollution discharges from industrial sources.”

Tutman’s group describes itself as a nonprofit watershed advocacy organization.

WSSC says it may face a fine form the Maryland Department of the Environment.

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