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Sussex County's other ocean outfall operational for nearly 40 years

City of Rehoboth Beach

Rehoboth Beach’s controversial ocean outfall recently started discharging treated wastewater into the Atlantic Ocean. But it’s not the first outfall operating in Sussex County. Another has been operational for more than 30 years.


The South Coastal Regional Wastewater Facility near Bethany Beach has 23,000 users from as far south as the Fenwick Island line to just over the other side of the Indian River Inlet to as far as west as Holts Landing. It can treat as much as 7 million gallons of wastewater a day, if needed.


When a resident flushes their toilet, that water travels down a sewer lateral to the street and goes through several manholes and a main to get to a pump station. From there, it may go to other pump stations, and then to South Coastal. 


At South Coastal, the water is mechanically screened to take out debris. A type of treatment called “grit treatment” removes sand and eggshell material. 


The water goes to an aeration area where it’s mixed with wastewater that’s already in the system. It then travels to a clarifier where some parts of the water are allowed to settle out. Sludge settles at the bottom and is recycled. 


The rest of the water goes to a sand filter before it goes to a chlorine disinfectant and is pumped out to the ocean.


Loran George, a district manager at South Coastal, says the treatment plant is monitored frequently to make sure the water going to the ocean is acceptable.


“We run permit tests every single day of the year,” he said. “Christmas Day we’re here, New Years Day we’re here. It’s all recorded and sent to the state monthly.”


Their permit also requires the ocean outfall be inspected every five years. Divers and robots come in and survey the pipe.


George says as long as he’s been with the county — since 1989 — the treatment plant and outfall have been in compliance.


Work on the South Coastal Regional Wastewater Facility near Bethany Beach starting in 2019 will replace aging infrastructure and increase daily capacity from 7 million gallons to 10 million. The project will take about two-and-a-half years.


According to its permit — if the county reaches 80 percent capacity at the plant, they have to build additional space. 


County Engineer Hans Medlarz says the county’s population growth is getting them close to that.


“We’re not at the 80 percent level, but we’re just being proactive,” Medlarz said.


Upgrades at the facility will cost around $40 million.


The South Coastal Regional Wastewater Facility treats on average more than 2 million gallons of wastewater a day before sending it to the Atlantic Ocean through an outfall pipe. By comparison, Rehoboth’s average is 1.5 million gallons a day.

The facility went online in 1976. The county pulled its wastewater discharge source from the Little Assawoman Bay and started discharging into the ocean through an outfall pipe since 1979.

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