A mild odour of chemical cleaner now permeates the Halifax wastewater-treatment facility, wafting up from a cavernous “wet well” that descends deep beneath Upper Water Street.
Eleven months after a massive flood filled the entire well with wastewater and raw sewage, the walls have been scrubbed down, the equipment replaced, and some major modifications made to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
Mayor Peter Kelly took a tour of the facility yesterday, and said he is confident it will be running at full capacity by late April or early May.
“It’s come a long way since (the flood),” he said. “This event wasn’t planned for, but unfortunately, it happened.”
What exactly happened on the night of Jan. 14 has been poured over ad nauseam by municipal officials and forensic teams, who concluded that a power outage was ultimately to blame for the catastrophe.
During the outage, two generators were supposed to activate, keeping the plant running. But one of them overloaded and then quickly shut down to protect itself, stopping the facility’s five main pumps and allowing wastewater to pour in.
Plant manager Rory MacNeil explained the two generators have now been linked, and will automatically balance their power outputs so neither will short out. Electrical equipment that controlled the pumps was also moved up and out of reach of possible flood waters.
“Even if there is water in the main well … those pumps will continue to be able to pump water up and out,” MacNeil said.
The cleanup came at an estimated cost of $11 million, most of which was covered by insurance. A still-unknown amount will be covered by the municipality, Kelly admitted.
Halifax Water general manager Carl Yates said HRM’s two other treatment plants have been modified based on lessons learned from the flood, and he’s confident the changes will prevent similar disasters from happening in the future.
“It won’t happen again,” he said. “Not the way it did before.”