Harris Teeter Sewage Backup Caused by Clog

by ARLnow.com May 14, 2012 at 3:56 pm 11,521 35 Comments

Officials say a clog at the Arlington County Water Pollution Control Plant is what caused raw sewage to flow into the Harris Teeter supermarket on S. Glebe Road, near Potomac Yard.

The incident started on the morning of Friday, May 11. An excess buildup of rags and debris got into a pump station and clogged the station’s suction lines, according to Water Pollution Control Bureau Chief Larry Slattery. A sewage line then started to back up, ultimately leading to an overflow of raw sewage into Harris Teeter and the parking garage adjacent to the store.

Harris Teeter is closed indefinitely while crews work to sanitize the store.

Slattery said the sewage wound up in the store because it’s located “near the lower end of the collection system” — only a short distance across Jefferson Davis Highway from the Water Pollution Control Plant. He was unable to confirm how much sewage flowed into the store and the parking garage.

Temporary pumps were put in place by early Friday afternoon to help clear out the sewage backup. The debris was cleared out of the pump station and the sewage system was back to normal early Saturday morning, Slattery said.

“As soon as we figured out what [the problem] was we took steps as fast as possible to correct the issue,” he said.

As a result of the incident, Arlington County will now be increasing the frequency of sewage pumping system cleanings from once every year to once every three months. The pump that became clogged had last been cleaned out in January, according to Slattery.

“We’re taking steps to check out the sanitary sewer lines,” Slattery said. “That’s not the kind of customer service we want to provide. We don’t want this to ever happen.”

Photo courtesy Douglas Wendt

  • novasteve

    Chipotleaddict, don’t you think you’ve caused Arlington to suffer enough?

    • chipotle_addict

      Sad email I got.

      “Our Very Important Customer (VIC) card records indicate that you have shopped at the Potomac Yard Harris Teeter recently and we want to make you aware of a situation that will temporarily affect that location.

      On Friday, May 11, 2012, a problem at the Potomac Yard Lift Station at the Arlington County Water Pollution Control Plant forced us to close your Potomac Yard Harris Teeter. These were circumstances beyond our control, and this Harris Teeter will remain closed until further notice and we are able to properly sanitize and reset the store. This includes sanitation and/or replacement of equipment, as well as all new products.”

      My registration here was poorly timed. If it occurred a week later, my name would have been districttaco_addict And I find burritos are actually very bio-degradable and unlikely to cause any clogs after passing.

  • B-Rad

    oops! Lawyers

  • Jackson

    If I am a developer investing in that area, I would be very very concerned.

    I feel bad for Harris Teeter. Can they sue the Arlington Government to reclaim costs? Or can their insurer?

  • poop

  • Dude Where’s My Car

    I don’t know anything about sewage plants or wastewater treatment… BUT… seems like there should be some way of monitoring this — checking the flow rate every day to see if it is getting progressively lower over time, or something. Rather than just arbitrarily saying “we should do this every x” months and hope it doesn’t clog.”

    • JamesE

      Cross correlate with local taco bell sales and generate an accurate model of when backups are most likely to occur.

    • NPGMBR

      I think its even more necessary to educate the public that its not okay to flush certain items down the toilet. I’m sure the staff at the water treatment plant would LOVE not to have to clear that pipe on an increasing frequency because residents flush whatever they can down their toilets.

      • Dude Where’s My Car

        There’s always going to be some percentage of the population that ignores such instruction. So the system will always have to be periodically cleaned. It just seems like this period should be based on something other than a guess we made from the last time it backed up and dumped sewage into a grocery store. 🙂

  • South Awwlington

    Who pays for the restoration of the space? Does insurance cover this or does the County?

    • Jon

      Insurance will probably have to strong arm it from the county. The question is who pays for the missed sales dollars for the weeks/months of cleanup? They lost more than equipment and a bill for the plumbing, they lost million in sales

      • South Awwlington

        I would guess that the Teet will get their $$$ somehow.

      • Dee Bunker

        The store employees who are out of work are also suffering lost wages.

        • MyHood

          No one is out of work. HT relocated the employees to other stores in the interim.

          • drax

            So are those “new” jobs?

          • Josh S

            Good one.

    • nom de guerre

      Arlington County is self-insured. I will bet good money that ultimely the taxpayers will foot the bill for this one.

      • nom de guerre


  • Jon

    Champagne bottles popping at the insurance company’s office as we speak

  • That’s quite a stretch on the definition of a block…..I guess what I meant to say is that by referring to it as “a block” the inference that many people might make is that the distance between the two places is small. It’s not. Yes, I know that technically it’s a block between the two locations. It’s just that that block is about 1,000 feet. The connection between the wastewater treatment plant and a possible sewage spill at the Harris Teeter seems tenous.

    • Josh S

      OK, OK, OK. Yes, this news pretty much leaves me the local laughing stock. Pile on boys, pile on.

  • MikeinAr

    “He was unable to confirm how much sewage flowed into the store”. I’m guessing he wasn’t allowed to say, “a shti-load.”

  • nom de guerre

    “No. Please explain again, only at greater length and with less clarity. Also, please turn up the condescension level from “obnoxious” to ‘downright intolerable’.”

  • DSS10

    I’m not thinking that this was due to a ‘back up of rags and debris.” There is a whole sub-set of septic engineering required when a septic system is below the level of the Septic plant and one of the key points are anti-blackflow valves. If everything was engineered correctly (and inspected correctly, I might add) this should never happen, pump failing or not. This could get interesting as to who will be liable for this one; The engineer who under spec’ed the system. The inspector who turned a blind eye to a substandard pluming job. The current building owner (or condo owners) for not maintaining the plumbing.

    • Kirk

      I don’t doubt what you’re saying, and I’m too lazy to walk across the office and thumb through the IPC. But in my experience, the blame in that case would go first to the design engineer of record, then to the inspecting official/agency. But the government is too good at covering up their tracks. Maybe next to the builder.

      • DSS10

        I used to work in a computer room in the 7th sub-basement of a high rise with a bathroom on our floor.. One day the building engineer was in and he enlightened me as to all of the protections they had in the plumbing systems to prevent this type of thing happening and ensure the “continuity of operations.”

    • South Awwlington

      Anti-backflow should have prevented this. Here it comes…

  • Elmer

    In southwestern Virginia, we used to go clogging on Saturday nights at the Carter Fold in Hiltons. I had no idea clogging caused such problems in city sewers. We were on septic tanks-although an unfortunate few had to straight pipe to the creek.

    • Elmer

      BTW, The yankees called it “clog dancing”.

  • John Fontain

    “An excess buildup of rags and debris”

    I hate to be crude, but is this rags as in “on the…”

  • Taxpayer

    For the 2013/14 Fiscal Years, the County Board voted for an increase of $0.10 on Real Estate Taxes to cover rising costs including … taking a dump on Harris Teeter …

  • Suburban Not Urban

    1) If this happened to your home – unless you had extra coverage, you would not be covered by your plain vanilla home owner’s insurance.

    2) I kind of doubt that the county has any liability here – they’ll tell you that you should have had insurance.

  • G Clifford Prout (now moderated for extra purity)


  • YTK

    Well.. keep building more condos so more people can flush and pollute.

  • Shopper

    Any update on the status?


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