U.S. Water News Online
MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Low river levels brought on by the
drought have forced one paper company in Monroe County to use pumps
on a barge to supply water to the mill and another in Prattville to
store wastewater in ponds instead of discharging it into the Alabama
Officials at Alabama River Pulp Co. near Perdue Hill said the
pumping operation was needed because the river had fallen below seven
"We are currently operating at levels at which we have never
operated before," said Pete Black, Alabama River Pulp's general
Martha Sims, manager of environmental performance for
International Paper at Prattville, said wastewater was put in holding
ponds due to concerns about river water quality if it was discharged.
"I've been here 26 years," she said. "I can't tell you a time
we've held water for this long for this purpose, due to river
The difficulties some paper mills are having was one of the topics
discussed during a weekly drought update moderated by the Army Corps
of Engineers. The problems at Alabama River Pulp and International
Paper in Prattville were reported by The Birmingham News.
Black said the river intake for the mill begins to lose suction
when the water level drops below seven feet, but it has been between
5.5 feet and six feet deep in recent weeks.
"To combat the problem, we have placed a barge with supplemental
pumps into the river and these pumps supply additional water to flood
our river intake," Black said in a written response to questions.
Although the system has allowed the company to keep running, it's
costing the company $5,000 per week to operate the extra pumps.
"The situation also places the operation in jeopardy if one of
these additional pumps should fail," Black said.
Sims said the Prattville plant could release some wastewater into
the river and not push quality levels below the minimum standard of
five milligrams of dissolved oxygen per liter of water.
But she said some water samples, taken recently at 10 points along
a 20-mile stretch of the Alabama River near the mill, showed
dissolved oxygen levels of less than six milligrams per liter.
So officials decided to temporarily store the treated wastewater
in holding ponds, in hopes that recent rains will boost river flow,
which can help boost dissolved oxygen levels.
"We're just trying to be conservative, and give the river time for
natural conditions to let the dissolved oxygen level increase," Sims
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