When floodwaters rise, everyone’s toilet still works — but only because one worker takes a boat to a submerged pump station and keeps the sewers running.
That lonely but critical station, the North Ferry Street Pump Station, is getting $780,000 in upgrades this year, including pumps that can operate even when submerged.
But someone will still stand watch over them when the Mohawk River floods, sewer treatment plant Chief Operator James Versocki said.
The key station in the city’s sewer system is surrounded by river water during the occasional spring flood. Before that happens, a worker goes inside, sandbags the door and prepares to wait it out.
“You can actually see the water going around the building,” Versocki said.
The fire department ferries workers to the station in a boat when the first worker needs a break.
“We don’t leave him in there the whole time,” Versocki said, estimating that most floods last 24 hours. “We bring a boat down and change people out.”
The old pumps need constant maintenance — their motors date from 1955, and the simple machines were folded into a complex, Rube Goldberg-style device that keeps the critical components high in the air while a long driveshaft punches through floodwater to keep the pump moving.
Those driveshafts cause no end of problems, Versocki said.
The rest of the station generally has worked well. If a flood cuts power, a generator comes on automatically. A sump pump keeps the floor relatively dry.
But the station is so important to the entire sewer system that Versocki can’t take a chance with it during floods.
“They’ll still have to do the same thing, stay inside and watch them,” Versocki said. “It’ll be a little safer from floods, but they would still need to have someone watch them.”
The old pumps will be replaced one by one over the course of the year. Work should be done by November.
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