Wolfe Neck Wastewater Treatment Facility Receives Notice of Viol - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Wolfe Neck Wastewater Treatment Facility Receives Notice of Violation from DNREC

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Runoff could be seen in Clayton's Mar. 3 video. The runoff contains treated wastewater, combined with storm water (Source: Jeff Clayton) Runoff could be seen in Clayton's Mar. 3 video. The runoff contains treated wastewater, combined with storm water (Source: Jeff Clayton)

REHOBOTH BEACH, Del. - The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control issued a formal notice of violation to the Sussex County Council after a recent runoff incident at the Wolfe Neck Wastewater Treatment Facility. The announcement, which was made on Mar. 18, came weeks after a Rehoboth Beach resident captured the runoff on camera, and posted it online. 

County officials confirmed that the incident occurred on Mar. 3, although they told WBOC that there was no environmental damage caused by it. The facility is located off of Route One, on Wolfeneck Road, just south of the Cape Henlopen State Park. It serves almost 42,000 people in the Cape region. On a follow up visit on Mar. 9, DNREC confirmed that the runoff was no longer flowing. 

The Wolfe Neck facility collects the wastewater for the Lewes-Rehoboth area, and treats it for in between 60 and 90 days. After that the treated wastewater is sprayed on approximately 300 acres of farmland, located on the property. On Mar. 3, a portion of the treated wastewater, combined with storm water, flowed off the property and into the Holland Glade Marsh. This is what the violation was all about. 

Hans Medlarz said that the runoff was primarily caused by severe weather, which brought an influx of water. This caused the soil to become over-saturated, and so the treated water did not soak into the ground, but flowed off property instead. For that reason he said that this was an "isolated" issue.

“It is not a widespread issue," he said. "It is totally a seasonal issue. And we will have to address the seasonality of our operations. And be better preapred for extreme weather conditions if and when they occur."

The runoff was captured on camera by Rehoboth resident Jeff Clayton, who posted the video on his youtube account. Despite county assurances that this is an isolated and rare incident, Clayton said he has worries about the facility as a whole.

“It's a shame," he said. "If you look at the videos that I took, you can see how much water is going in there. There's no question it kills the bays." 

Clayton has history with DNREC, after being cited and fined for trying to build an unauthorized bike trail through the state park. 

The main concern with runoff is the possibility of excess nitrogen making it's way into neighboring waterways. Nitrogen can cause problems for marine life, because it creates algae blooms, which suck up all the oxygen from the water.  

Medlarz said that the content of the runoff had a "fairly low quantity" of Nitrogen. In fact, Medlarz said the amount of nitrogen in the runoff was below the level that would make it unsafe to drink. 

The notice of violation did not include a fine or punishment, but did mandate that the following actions are taken:

- The facility must "adjust the Center pivot controls and irrigation end gun to avoid irrigation near the southern portion" of the field where runoff was observed. 

- The facility must "initiate repairs to the buffer area to eliminate ruts, channels and erosion spots that may channel runoff" from the field adjacent to the marsh. These repairs must be included in weekly reports to the Ground Water Discharges Section. 

- The facility must "submit an Erosion and Runoff Control Plan to address long term management of the spray irrigation fields and buffers for the Department's review and approval" by June 1, 2016. 

County Administrator Todd Lawson said that violations are very rare for this facility, as they've had just four in the last 20 years, since the facility was opened. 

“Citizens should not be concerned," he said. "We're operating properly. We're disposing of the wastewater properly. This is an isolated incident and it was a technical violation."

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