VALPARAISO | It was a first in the 18 years Steve Poulos has worked for the city's wastewater treatment plant, and it might have been a first in the almost 60-year history of the facility.
In 2012, the city had no overflows of untreated sewage into Salt Creek from the plant.
Poulos, the city's utility director, said part of the reason was the dry year. The city had only about 24 inches of rain for the year. However, 2001 was a dry year with only about 25 inches of rain but the city had 13 overflows that year. The city had less than 30 inches of rain in 2005 but still had four overflows.
Between 2001 and 2005 the city completed the expansion of the treatment plant's capacity, doubling it to 18 million gallons a day. Since then, the city has completed several sewer separation projects as well as building a disinfection facility that allows it to give at least preliminary treatment to up to 50 million gallons a day.
The irony is construction of the disinfection facility, which removes floatables, provides primary treatment and eliminates E. coli contamination, was completed in April. So far, the city hasn't had a rain sufficient enough to test it. Poulos said, while not eager for a major rain, he would like to be sure the new facility works.
"In the past 14 years we've had a trend of decreasing overflow events with the infrastructure upgrades we've made," he said. "The sump pump disconnection program we completed up north (in the Green Acres area) has helped quite a bit. The Chautauqua Park project is going to be a huge benefit when it comes to overflows."
Bids for the first phase of the sewer separation project in the Chautauqua Park area - bounded by Campbell Street on the east, Lincolnway on the south, Yellowstone Road on the west and the Canadian National tracks on the north - will be opened and a contract awarded in the next couple of months and construction should be completed this year.
Combined sewers in the area have led to frequent street and basement flooding problems for decades. The project involves construction of a detention basin near St. Paul school and separation of the storm and sanitary sewers along several streets. A second phase for the southern half of the area is planned for 2014.
Poulos said storm sewers installed on Valparaiso Street, Campbell and the Union Street area have had a major impact on the amount of stormwater entering the system and going through the treatment plant. The city has worked for several years to deal with the worst flooding areas, aided by an increase in the stormwater fees a couple of years ago.
"I think our effort and investment as a community is paying dividends because we do have less events and less volume of water overflowed and no overflows in 2012," Poulos said, adding the last one came Dec. 14, 2011 following a two-inch rain.
Salt Creek has suffered from E. coli contamination in the past, and the city has signed a long-term control plan agreement with the state to try to eliminate the problem. If it didn't trying to correct the problem, the state or federal government could force it to act.