AWA repairing collapsed pipe
Sewer damage found during fish kill investigation
Altoona Water Authority workers are repairing a 30-inch sanitary sewer pipe that collapsed after being undermined by the Little Juniata River, allowing the contents to flow into the river about a quarter-mile north of the North Eighth Street Bridge in Juniata recently.
A state Department of Environmental Protection official discovered the 32-foot-long break Wednesday while investigating a fish kill about 2 miles downstream, near the Lower Riggles Gap Road bridge, but neither he nor an official of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission think the line break caused the deaths of the fish.
The reinforced concrete pipe was installed as long ago as the 1800s alongside the river, but over time, the river shifted onto the ground where the pipe was buried, eroding the soil under the pipe, causing the collapse, according to Todd Musser, the authority’s director of sewer treatment operations.
Authority workers stopped the flow of sewage within two hours of learning about the collapse, according to Musser.
They have installed bypass piping and a redundant temporary repair with plastic pipe on the main line until the authority can obtain the needed 100 feet of PVC pipe, then install it for a permanent fix, which should be done by the end of next week, Musser said.
The pipe carries sanitary effluent from the Fairview and Wehnwood neighborhoods to the Easterly Sewer Treatment Plant, Musser said.
A fisherman called in the fish kill, according to a report provided by DEP spokesman John Repetz.
The DEP investigator who responded found several dead trout near the bridge, then more dead trout and a dead sucker near a salvage yard a third of a mile upstream — but no dead fish in the area of the sewer plant, which is about two-thirds of a mile farther upstream, according to the investigator’s report.
Sean Sauserman, a Waterways Conservation officer, found about 35 dead fish — brown trout and a few suckers — between the Lower Riggles Gap Road Bridge and the Easterly plant.
The cause of the kill is officially “undetermined,” Sauserman said.
It could have been wholly or partially due to natural causes –lack of oxygen in the water caused by its high temperature, caused in turn by low flow and warm weather, Sauserman said.
His finding no dead fish downstream from the bridge, where Sandy Run flows into the river, giving it a “big shot of good, cold water,” supports that theory.
Regardless, there is no indication the fish kill was caused by the break of the sewer line or a discharge from the Easterly plant, Sauserman said.
Not only are the readings from the plant outfall normal for the time before the kill, but the water was clear in the plant area, not gray like it might be if there had been a problem, he said.
And the line break was a mile upstream from the plant.
Nor was there an indication that the salvage yard in Pinecroft had anything to do with the fish kill, Sauserman said.
After completing the pipe repair, authority workers will repair the river bank with rocks and possibly concrete Jersey barriers, according to Blair County Conservation District Manager Donna Fisher.
Those repairs will be subject to DEP approval, Fisher said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.