Late into Tuesday’s storm that left the region flooded with inches of water and debris resulting from strong winds, a water treatment plant in Savage, Maryland, overflowed into the Little Patuxent River leaving Howard County under a precautionary health alert.

Because of the storm’s heavy downpour, approximately 138,888 gallons of partially treated water within the Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant surged over the plant’s containment wall and into the river.

“The area where the overflow occurred was not accessible to the public,” Kedrick McIntye, chief of engagement and communications for the Department of Public Works said in a statement. “Due to the high-water conditions during the storm and the time that has elapsed, the Howard County Health Department has assessed that the risk to the public is considered very low.”

About 15 minutes after the county’s DPW was notified of a potential overflow, plant workers shut off the necessary water valves and curbed the flow.

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The water flowed both overland and through a storm drain, and McIntye said DPW’s Bureau of Facilities picked up debris and all visible remnants of the overflow off the land. The area – which is within the perimeter of the plant and away from public access – where the partially treated water ran overland was also disinfected with lime to “kill any possible pathogens,” he said.

To prevent any future overflows, McIntye said the county will implement a capital project in fiscal year 2025. The project will increase water storage and help make sure that during storms, water flow can be stabilized.

“Until the project is implemented, we will continue to ensure all components of the treatment system are free of obstructions so that even during heavy storm events, wastewater will flow unimpeded,” McIntye said.

The water plant has overflowed occasionally, he said, due to equipment failures and previous storms. The plant, which is in the southern half of the county, treats wastewater for 56% of Howard County’s population, including cities north of the plant such as Columbia, Savage and North Laurel, according to the plant’s website.

The Little Patuxent River begins in Howard County and flows into the Patuxent River – which is the state’s largest river – and is a tributary to the Chesapeake Bay, according to the Chesapeake Conservancy.

Requests to the Howard County Health Department were referred to DPW.

Abby Zimmardi is the 2023 investigative reporting fellow for The Baltimore Banner. Zimmardi earned her master’s degree from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism in December 2022. 

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