City of Atlanta Spills Sewage into Chattahoochee
Municipal Error Causes Big Stink
By Cheryl Crabb, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

About 1.5 million gallons of partially treated sewage spilled into the Chattahoochee River this week after a pipe clogged at the Johns Creek waste water treatment plant in north Fulton County.

Plant operators shut down one of two clarifiers at the plant for most of the day Tuesday to repair the pipe, which caused 1.49 million gallons of the waste to be discharged into the river. It is considered a major spill for the plant, which serves a 35-square mile area east of Alpharetta. Another 171,000 gallons of partially treated solids were discharged Wednesday morning after the clarifier was put back in service, said Fulton County Public Works Director Terry Todd. Weather was not a factor.

All of the discharge went through the disinfection process, but ran through the clarifier more quickly than normal. The required amount of solids was not filtered out. Although the pipes have been repaired, it may take time before the treatment process used to remove solid material from waste water works properly again, said Ed Clark, a sewer consultant to Fulton County.

Fulton County notified DeKalb and Cobb counties about the spills. Both have water intake points downstream from the Johns Creek plant.

Harlan Trammell of the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper went out in a boat on Tuesday to take a look at the spill.

"There was the stinky smell of sewage; condoms and other material (from sewers) were floating down the river, and there was foam everywhere," he said. "The water was a milky gray color."

Trammell also is a fishing guide and often catches and eats the fish out of that stretch of the river. "I wouldn't eat any fish out of it today," he added.

Spills such as those that occurred this week increase phosphorus levels in the river. Fulton will be fined for the violations by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, public works official Todd said. The amount is not yet determined.

Although county officials consider the clogged pipe an isolated incident, the overburdened Johns Creek plant is under constant pressure. The plant exceeded its permitted capacity for more than half of last year.

County officials began addressing the problem in January when they banned new construction projects for 18 months in the area it serves.

The ban was to allow a pipeline to be built to divert sewage from Johns Creek to the larger Big Creek plant.

Although the pipeline will ease pressure at Johns Creek, it will increase the burden at Big Creek, which also is in trouble. Both areas are projected to run out of capacity in 2001 unless a solution is found. It will take at least five years to expand the plants, officials say. Fulton now hopes to send more sewage to Cobb.