Oconee sewage woes continue with more spills

The Oconee County government’s sewage problems continued last week with more violations of state pollution rules at its Calls Creek wastewater treatment facility.

County officials reported a major spill of about 50,000 gallons of partly treated wastewater from the plant near Watkinsville. No raw sewage was released, according to Oconee County utility director Wayne Haynie, director of the Oconee County Utilities Department.

That Sept. 25 spill went on from about 5 a.m. until 8 a.m., according to the county’s legal notice of the spill Haynie prepared.

“This event, brought on by high, wet-weather related influent flows, caused an overflow of effluent containing total suspended solids (TSS) measured at 23 mg/l (milligrams per liter) exceeding our weekly average of 15 mg/l,” according to the report.

Oconee officials have also told state en

vironmental officials of an additional violation in the month of July, when the Calls Creek facility exceeded its monthly and weekly permit limits for suspended solids in wastewater.

In July, the plant went above the monthly and weekly average release of suspended solids the state allows. In one week of July, the total solid wastes were more than double the maximum allowable load for Calls Creek wastewater, according to Haynie’s report to EPD.

The spills bring to eight the number of violations the county has reported this year, including one in April of unknown size and duration at Calls Creek.

Not all the spills have been at Calls Creek.

That April spill came to light when a landowner downstream of Calls Creek brought Oconee County Commission Chairman Melvin Davis a video showing effluent discharging to the creek.

Three employees subsequently resigned after a consultant’s investigation revealed long-standing serious problems with equipment and operations at the Calls Creek Water Reclamation Facility as well as at the county’s other wastewater treatment facility, the Rocky Branch Land Application System.

To correct the latest spills, Haynie said the county will begin staffing the plant beyond eight hours a day, among other measures.

Longer-term, county officials have moved to buy a used treatment plant to expand the capacity of the Calls Creek facility.

The plant, dismantled, transported and reassembled, will cost just under $2.3 million, according to an agreement the county government has with an Atlanta company that represents manufacturers in the water and wastewater industries. But with additional costs to upgrade the existing plant and tying the two together, the expansion and renovation of the Calls Creek facility could cost $5 million to $6 million, according to Davis.

The county will soon issue a request for proposals from companies qualified to do that work, he said.

The reassembled treatment plant could possibly go online as soon as early 2017. When the work is done, the plant should be more reliable, and also have a bigger treatment capacity — 1 million gallons a day, vs. .67 million gallons a day now, Haynie said.

Upgrading the existing treatment plant could also be a significant cost, he said.

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