Sunday, February 19, 2012

Oconee County Seeking Reissuance of Permit to Discharge Treated Wastewater into Barber Creek

Wants Document in Reserve

Oconee County is seeking to renew its permit to discharge 1 million gallons per day of treated wastewater into Barber Creek, although county Utility Department Director Chris Thomas has indicated he does not plan to use the permit.

In fact, Thomas presented to the Board of Commissioners on July 26 of last year a long-range sewage and water plan that does not include construction of the sewage treatment plant on Rocky Branch Road.

The proposed plant was to replace the existing Land Application System facility on that site. The permit the county wants to renew is for that plant, which was halted after the bidding stage.

Rocky Branch LAS 2/18/2012

Thomas told me on Friday that announcement earlier that day of the new Caterpillar plant for the Orkin Tract at U.S. 78 and SR 316 did not change the county’s sewage plans.

Thomas said the county can treat the sewage from the Caterpillar plant at the existing LAS site, if Oconee County ends up providing sewage services.

Thomas said that Clarke and Oconee counties have not agreed on which will provide water and sewer services to the plant, and the two counties could split the two.

Thomas said he has a very good working relationship with his counterpart, Gary Duck, Utility Department director in Clarke County, and Thomas said he does not foresee any problems with working out an agreement based on which county can best handle the plant’s needs.

Thomas said that the discharge from the Caterpillar plant will be tightly regulated by the federal government under the Clean Water Act of 1972 to guarantee that any metals that might be in the industrial effluent are properly treated.

Plant effluent of this type would have to be pretreated before it entered the sewage system of either county, he said.

The county’s request for a reissuance of the permit to discharge into Barber Creek is before the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for review.

Barber Creek near LAS 2/18/2012

The EPD has called for public comment on the proposed reissuance of the permit, which is now in draft form.

Thomas said his request for reissuance of the permit is routine and he took the action without bringing it before the Board of Commissioners, which had approved the initial application.

I learned of the application from the public announcement from EPD, issued on Feb. 7.

Thomas said the request for the permit to be reissued did not represent any change from the plans presented to the Board in July.

“Our primary goal, and plan, is to go to the Middle Oconee, but it is one of those things, where once you get a permit, until we get the other permit, we definitely don’t want to give that option away at this point,” Thomas told me in a telephone conversation on Monday of last week.

His reference is to a proposed sewage plant on the Middle Oconee River that could replace both the existing LAS site and the existing Calls Creek sewage treatment plant outside Watkinsville. These are the only two sewage treatment facilities in Oconee County.

“I can tell you it is fairly unlikely right now that we would move forward and take on Barber Creek unless it is just one of those situations where we have to,” Thomas said.

Thomas said he told the EPD in the application that the county did not need the permit at present because of the downturn in the economy and decreased demands for sewage treatment.

“If those flow increase, we will monitor the situation and may look to begin construction in the future,” Thomas said. “It is not likely, but we need to at least have that option.”

Gigi Steele, manager of the municipal permitting program at the EPD, told me in a telephone conversation on Tuesday of last week that this kind of request for reissuance of a permit is common.

In the current climate, counties and municipalities are finding they don’t have money to build or expand their facilities, she said, but “they want to hold on to their ability to discharge into that specific creek.”

The permit the county current holds expires on March 29, 2012.

The draft permit that Steele provided me does not have an expiration date, but Thomas said he is requesting that the new permit run for five years, the maximum allowed by EPD rules.

According to the Fact Sheet provided me by Steele, Barber Creek was “a new addition” in 2010 to the “list of water not supporting its designated use.” The stream is classified as a “Fishing” stream.

The Fact Sheet said Barber Creek was added to what is referred to as the “305(b)/303(d) list” because it violates the fecal coliform bacteria criterion.

The presence of fecal coliform in a stream may indicate that the water has been contaminated with the fecal material of humans or other animals. When fecal coliform levels are high there may be higher risk of waterborne gastroenteritis.

The draft permit sets the same discharge limitations as did the one it would replace, including the same standard for release of fecal coliform bacteria of 23 counts per 100 milliliter.

Barber Creek originates in Barrow County and flows for 26 miles before joining McNutt Creek just east of the intersection of U.S. 441 and SR Loop 10 on the Oconee County and Clarke County border.

Barrow County discharges treated sewage water into Barber Creek upstream from the LAS site, which actually is on the Rocky Branch tributary to Barber Creek.

The EPD held a public hearing in Dec. 12, 2006, before it issued its permit to Oconee County to discharge 1 MGD of treated wasterwater into Barber Creek. The permit was granted on March 30, 2007.

I was one of those who asked for that hearing and spoke at it on behalf of Friends of Barber Creek, an advocacy group that I helped found.

Before a county or city can apply for a permit, it must receive a Waste Load Allocation from the EPD indicating that the stream can handle the discharge. The applicant asks that the ability to handle the discharge be “allocated” to it.

Oconee County first received a WLA for Barber Creek on Aug. 10, 2005.

According to the Fact Sheet for the permit reissuance, Oconee County was reissued a WLA for Barber Creek on Jan. 27, 2012.

At one point, the county also discussed discharging wastewater from the Rocky Branch sewer plant into the Appalachee River. Thomas said the county does not hold any permit for discharge into the Apalachee.

Persons wishing to comment on the permit reissuance request for Barber Creek have until March 8 to submit comments to EPD at 4220 International Parkway, Suite 101, Atlanta, GA 30354, or via email, to

Writers should use the words “Public Notice No. 2012-3ML” and reference NPDES Permit No. GA0038806 for the Oconee County Rocky Branch Water Reclamation facility in their comments.

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