Hearing Set for Atlanta Clean Water Act Permit

Fear for South River Water Quality

As of Saturday, January 31, 2015
© Copyright 2015 Rockdale Citizen


COVINGTON — A public hearing Thursday in Atlanta may affect future pollution levels of the already-polluted South River that crosses Rockdale and Newton counties and attracts boating and fishing fans.

At issue is the city of Atlanta’s federal Clean Water Act permit, which is up for renewal. According to environmentalists and concerned citizens, Atlanta is seeking language in the new permit that will reduce the federal limits on pollution that its wastewater system dumps into the South River.

“If Atlanta succeeds, communities in DeKalb, Rockdale, Newton, Henry, Jasper and Butts counties will suffer. We all live downstream; what harms one, harms all,” said Jackie Echols, president of South River Watershed Alliance.

The state Environmental Protection Division is holding a public hearing on the proposed permit Thursday in Atlanta. The EPD will receive written comments from the public through Friday, Feb. 13.

The South River winds from Atlanta through DeKalb and into southern Rockdale and Newton counties before feeding Jackson Lake. It’s headwaters are located in East Point, a few miles south of downtown Atlanta.

That South River is over-polluted is not in question.

According to Hutton Brown, a senior attorney at GreenLaw, a nonprofit Atlanta law firm that supports environmentalist organizations, the state has to produce a “303” list — a reference to a section of the Clean Water Act. The list names the rivers and other wetlands that are “impaired” by pollution, and South River is on it.

“It’s a concerning situation,” Brown said. “We’re working on a comment letter that’s due in a couple of weeks.” The firm’s comment letter will be sent to the Georgia EPD on behalf of the SRWA.

Elaine Nash, who served two terms with the Rockdale County Water and Sewerage Authority and describes herself as an individual who always has been interested in clean streams, said a simple “disc” test can show the seriousness of the pollution in South River.

Nash said past disc tests show that when a white disc attached to a line stretched across the river is lowered into the water, the disc can no longer be seen when dropped 1 foot below the water’s surface. In the Alcovy River the disc is still visible at a depth of 4 feet.

“You don’t want to swim in it, and you don’t want your kids in it,” Nash said.

The permit Atlanta seeks is called a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit. It is good for five years and then must be renewed.

Echols said correspondence between the EPD and Atlanta’s Watershed Authority shows Atlanta has violated its permit in the past and the EPD has requested compliance.

Both Echols and Nash said that the problem is caused by Atlanta’s combined sewer system, which puts stormwater and sewage into one drainage system — with 19th century infrastructure — and causes overflows during heavy rainfalls into South River. Columbus is the only other city, Echols said, that maintains a combined system. All other municipalities separate storm water from sewage drainage.

“The only way to solve the overflow problem is to separate them,” Nash said.

In a recent SRWA release, Echols said, “The punishment for violations is fines which are levied at the discretion of Georgia EPD. Even when imposed, paying the fine is cheaper than fixing the problem.”

“We ought to demand to upstream people, ‘Do what you ought to do,’” Nash said.

The Georgia EPD public hearing on Atlanta’s proposed permit will be held on Thursday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m. at the EPD Tradeport Training Room, 4244 International Parkway, Atlanta, 30354.

Written comments from the public, due to the EPD by Friday, Feb. 13, can be mailed to 2 MLK Jr. Drive, Suite 1152 E 30334 or emailed to epdcomments@dnr.state.ga.us. The email must contain this mandatory text in the subject line: NPDES permit reissuance-City of Atlanta Combined Sewer System.