Up to 225,000 gallons of partially-treated sewage spilled into the Yellow River on Wednesday morning, when part of the Water and Sewage Authority’s wastewater treatment plant had to be closed down due to flooding.
WSA Executive Director Mike Hopkins said the spill is classified as a major spill, but he said the public shouldn’t be concerned, because no drinking water comes from the Yellow River and as long people stay out of the river they should be fine.
"We don’t anticipate that people will be swimming or doing anything in the Yellow River anytime soon," he said. "We’re asking people not to sight-see on the shoals out there."
The spill occurred at the wastewater treatment plant on River Front Road between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. Wednesday morning, when rising waters forced one of the plants pumps to be temporarily shut down; the circuit breaker was shut off so that the electrical components wouldn’t be ruined. Based on the amount of time the plant was down and the best-known guess at flow rates, the WSA estimated that 225,000 gallons spilled out of the plant.
Hopkins said the partially-treated sewage was piped to the old plant first, which is located further downstream and was left operational for emergencies like floods. The water was contained in the old plant’s basins, but that area was completely flooded, so the WSA didn’t know how much of the sewage remained at the old plant and how much spilled over to the Yellow River. The water remaining at the old plant is being pumped back into the newer plant to be treated, Hopkins said.
He said the new plant, which was built in 2007, is located above the 150-year floodplain for the area, which is why most of the plant avoided flooding. If the old plant was still the main plant, the flood would have completely shut it down.
"It’s a good thing that our board did that two years ago. If we had been in the old plant this would have been a catastrophe. We would not have been operating for days and weeks," Hopkins said.
Because of the spill, WSA officials will be taking water samples downstream over the next seven days to determine the amount of sewage, but Hopkins said he hoped the increased water flows would dissipate the concentration by the time it gets to Jackson Lake. In addition, the WSA notified the Georgia Environmental Protection Division of the spill and will place signs up along the Yellow River once the water recedes.
"The water will take some time to get to Jackson and will have a long way to dissipate and dilute. It sounds like a lot, and it was declared a major spill, but compared to what other counties are facing right now, it’s really light." Hopkins said.
In addition to the sewage, the Yellow River also contains a lot of tree and other debris, much of which was been carried south from Rockdale and Gwinnett counties, where the flooding was worse.
As far as other infrastructural damage, Hopkins said flow rates had been steady so there are not likely any major problems, but the county will have to wait for the water to recede before surveying the effects.
Land Application System Manager David Croom said the city’s systems have not had any problems and County Water Resources Director Karl Kelley said the facility’s water-providing plants at Cornish Creek and City Pond have also not been effected.
In fact, Kelley said the increased flows of Cornish Creek and the Alcovy River have been beneficial because they’ve raised the level at Lake Varner. The Cornish Creek Water Plant is running all three pumps from the Alcovy River.