Sometimes The Video Doesn’t Tell The Whole Truth

Sometime in the mid-1970s, the village of Westfield installed the Westside Pump Station to help get wastewater to the new waste treatment plant on Portage Street. The pump station was located on the side of Chautauqua Creek near the end of Oak Street. The purpose was to allow waste from the western area of Westfield to flow down by gravity to that point and then be pumped up to the sewer plant. That may seem like a good idea, but we had problems from the start when the creek would swell and overflow the pump station. When a past village employee was asked when the pump station started overflowing, his answer was, “when was it installed? That’s when it started overflowing.”

So, Westfield has had this problem of the Westside Pump Station overflowing for many years. What happens with the overflow? When the creek rises to the height of the encasement of the pumps, it flows into the encasement and brings some of that waste water into the creek. Sometimes the overflow maybe caused by a mechanical problem, a broken pump or a jam that would allow waste to flow into the creek.

The village has repeatedly applied for grants from the state and federal governments to help alleviate the health issue. The village through all the years never received funding for this problem. Finally, the village, under the previous mayor decided that we needed to do this million dollar project on our own. For the past 5 or 6 years, the village has brought in engineers, purchased additional property and spent many hours constructing a new Westside Pump Station above the creek gorge. This is well above creek level and will never be threatened by a rising creek. All of this is being paid for by our rate payers, not a dime from state or federal authorities.

So now back to the overflow. What did the village do when there was an overflow? The first thing was to notify county and state health officials and get the necessary forms filled out. Next, was to mitigate the situation in the best way possible. This is how it has been handled to 40 years with the OKs from state and county officials.

On June 12, 2014, we had a pump failure at the West Side Pump Station, and a resulting overflow a short time later. The overflow was reported according to regulations. The next morning, village staff proceeded to replace the pump. The single pump in the station was obviously not keeping up with the flow, so we brought in our vacuum truck to try to supplement it until we could pump the wet well down and get to the pump. The employees on the job asked the director what they should do because the truck couldn’t keep up with the flow while filling up and having to drive to the WWTP to discharge. The station was overflowing anyway, so the best course of action was to get the station back in working order as soon as possible. The options were to wait for a rented piece of equipment to pump out the station or to just discharge the truck onto the ground so it could keep pumping. The director decided to pump onto the ground, as waiting for several hours would have caused much more wastewater to reach the creek as the station would have continuously overflowed. Once the station was pumped down, pump No. 1 was replaced and pump No. 2 was found to be not pumping as it should. They removed that pump, and cleared a control float that had fallen and was stuck in the volute of the pump. Both pumps were back in operation, and keeping the station from overflowing into the creek. The corrective action taken, while spilling between 1,500-2,000 gallons of waste into the creek, it prevented approximately 400,000 of additional wastewater from going into the creek.

Here’s where the video only tells some of the story. Apparently a resident, that was also a village worker, videotaped the vacuuming of the pump well that then ran back into the creek but decided not to video the pump station that was already overflowing into the creek at a much faster rate. Remember, this waste was already overflowing into the creek from the pump well. Apparently, the video was then passed along to the DEC or EPA to show that the village just pumps waste into the creek. Without an explanation of us actually mitigating the situation and preventing thousands of additional gallons of waste from being allowed to flow into the creek, it’s clear that the video doesn’t tell the whole truth. Be aware that there are people that would like you to believe the video without the whole story.

Michael VandeVelde is the mayor of Westfield.