A public comment period runs through Nov. 13 on Adairsville’s agreement with the state on a plan to fix an aging sewage treatment plant which spewed hundreds of thousands of gallons of untreated wastewater into an area creek over a period of a year and a half.
The series of incidents caused the Adairsville North Water Pollution Control Plant on Old Dixie Highway to exceed legal limits of discharge into nearby Oothcalooga Creek in 11 of 15 months over two years.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division recently agreed to a Consent Order with the city requiring Adairsville to submit a plan within 30 days to correct the regular series of discharges of untreated wastewater from its Adairsville North plant and be required to pay a fine of more than $68,000.
The state EPD could have fined the city up to $100,000 per day for the violations but EPD Director Richard Dunn “determined it is in the public interest to resolve all allegations raised … by entering into this order without the necessity of litigation and adjudication of the issues,” the order stated.
James Cooley, director of district operations for the Georgia EPD, said the Consent Order “is an agreement between the city and the EPD to correct the issues and return the facility to compliance.”
He said he considers “all water quality issues serious.”
“However, obviously the most serious of all of the issues here are the untreated, unpermitted discharges of wastewater into waters of the state,” he said.
“The root of the problem of almost all of these issues is the city’s inflow and infiltration problems with their wastewater collection system,” Cooley said.
“These issues were self-reported from the city. They are cooperating with EPD and have been proactive in their attempt to get their inflow and infiltration issues under control,” he said
Lisa Eury, manager of the city’s water and wastewater plants, said any significant rainfall causes stormwater to enter the system through sewer line breaks or open manholes and cause the city to exceed its permitted wastewater discharge limits.
She said the city has spent about $300,000 to locate places in its 52 miles of sewer lines where stormwater inflow and infiltration is occurring.
The city has used everything from smoke tests to GPS mapping to locate line breaks and manholes — some of which the city had lost track of over the decades, Eury said.
“We’re really dedicated to resolving the problem,” Eury said.
The city also is using more than $11 million in low-interest loans from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority — a state agency created in part to help local governments build and upgrade water and wastewater treatment systems.
The funding is allowing the city to double the capacity of the wastewater plant to 2 million gallons per day by early 2021, Eury said.
The Consent Order stated the EPD and city discussed a plan for the city to fix the problems with the Adairsville North plant after the plant discharged 118,000 gallons of untreated wastewater into a tributary of Oothcalooga Creek in December 2017.
However, it discharged about 118,000 additional gallons into the creek and tributary in 11 separate incidents in the following 12 months — including three times each in February, May and December.
It also discharged 1 million gallons of partially treated wastewater on Dec. 27, 2018, the order stated.
Even after the city received a new discharge permit in February of this year, the plant continued to discharge an additional 134,000 gallons of untreated wastewater in four separate incidents in February and March, the order stated.
It also exceeded its monthly and weekly effluent and other limits in its permit in 10 separate months between February 2018 and April 2019.
The nonprofit Coosa River Basin Initiative monitors water quality issues in northwest Georgia, including the area around Adairsville.
Jesse Demonbreun-Chapman, who heads the nonprofit, said his group knew of discharge problems at the plant.
“Until this notice, we weren’t aware of the extent of the problem there,” he said.
“We have typically been trying to keep an eye on all of these wastewater treatment plants as they reopen and renew their permits. To a large extent, they don’t typically have this type of chronic issue.”
He said his group wants to make sure Adairsville’s plan “will be sufficient enough to address the problems at that facility” and the EPD follows up with operators “in a timely manner” about making deadlines the agency sets for the plants.
To comment on the Consent Order, the public can email email@example.com; call 770-387-4929; or address traditional mail to: Mr. James Cooley, Director of District Operations, Environmental Protection Division. 2 Martin Luther King Jr. Drive SE, Suite 1456 East, Atlanta, GA 30334.
Rome News-Tribune associate editor Doug Walker contributed to this report.