Oconee County is reporting yet another sewage spill–this one inside the city limits of Watkinsville and into a tributary of Calls Creek.
The sewage spill is the second reported by the county in three weeks and sixth since the first of the year.
The next most recent spill was on Aug. 21 and occurred when a contractor for the widening of Mars Hill Road hit a force main at the intersection of Mars Hill Road and Daniells Bridge Road.
In addition to the six spills this year of determined cause and duration, the county acknowledged in late April that the Calls Creek sewage treatment plant had been discharging an unknown volume of improperly treated water over an unknown period of time into Calls Creek.
The county posted a notice yesterday on its web site of the spill last Thursday morning.
Jenanne White, administrative assistant for the Utility Department, also sent an email message at 2:14 p.m. yesterday to The Oconee Enterprise, the county’s legal organ, asking it to publish the notice of the spill “in the earliest possible edition.”
|Notice At Pump Station|
The county told the state Environmental Protection Division that it posted a notice of the spill at the site on Thursday.
The county states in the notice of the spill on the web site that “Test results show no adverse effect in the water quality” resulting from the spill.
Amount Of Spill
The county told the EPD on Friday that a “maintenance crew discovered that our Cemetery Pump Station was overflowing into the adjacent intermittent tributary to Calls Creek.” The county provides sewer service for the city of Watkinsville.
The county said it “immediately stopped the overflow by pumping down the pump station.”
The cause of the problem was a faulty switch, according to the letter to the EPD, and that switch “has been replaced.”
The county estimated that 5,400 gallons of untreated sewage flowed into the intermittent tributary of Calls Creek that is immediately to the west of the pump station and cemetery.
On Sept. 11 the county told Apryl Singer, environmental health specialist with the county, that it was collecting “samples above and below the spill.”
The county subsequently told the EPD that it drew samples on Sept. 10, the date of the spill, upstream of the spill and on Sept. 15 (today) downstream of the spill. It did not indicate if the samples were from Calls Creek or from the tributary.
(NOTE: White from the Utility Department confirmed on 9/16/2015 that the Sept. 15 date on the report was a typing error. It should have read Sept. 10.)
The tests were for pH (acidity), temperature, fecal coliform and dissolved oxygen.
The data reported to EPD show roughly comparable levels of three of the measures upstream and downstream.
Fecal coliform bacteria was reported as 125 upstream and 2,070 downstream.
Fecal coliform is reported as the number of colony forming units per 100 milliliter.
The county released these results just before 5 p.m. today as the Utility Department was closing.
Volunteers To Sample
Volunteers from the Upper Oconee Watershed Network (UOWN) are planning to sample at the tributary and upstream and downstream from where it meets Calls Creek on Thursday.
That group drew samples on Sept. 3 at the tributary to Barber Creek that received the sewage spill that took place on Aug. 21 and found levels of E. coli bacteria that exceeded standards for recreational water and were more than double those in Barber Creek itself.
UOWN prefers E. coli as a measure of contamination, consistent with federal Environmental Protection Agency recommendations.
Vicki Soutar, a retired Oconee County science teacher, and Ken Morneault, who lives just north of Watkinsville, plan to do the UOWN sampling on Thursday.
They also are part of a group of Oconee County UOWN members that has called an open organizational meeting for 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 24 at the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville to discuss the need for citizen monitoring of county streams.
Tributary And Calls Creek
The tributary that received the raw sewage from the pump failure last Thursday flows north to Calls Creek along the side of or near property owned by Mark and Mitch Thomas.
The images on Google Earth are not clear in showing the flow of the tributary, but it seems to follow the Thomas property line.
Mark Thomas is a member of the Oconee County Board of Education and was the individual who recorded videos in early April of what appeared to be untreated sewage flow from the Calls Creek plant into Calls Creek itself.
Those videos forced the county to acknowledge problems with the plant.
Mark Thomas also is a member of the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority, which met in its regular session at the Courthouse in Watkinsville yesterday afternoon.
At two different points during that IDA meeting, members discussed sewers in the county.
Member Matt Elder said a subcommittee he is on is looking at water and sewer infrastructure in the county as a tool for luring businesses and industry to locate here.
Watkinsville Mayor Charles Ivie, also an IDA member, talked about the installation of a new sewer line in the city, paid for by Special Purpose Local Option Sales Taxes, and about its value in helping industry in the city.
It is unlikely that Thomas or Elder or other of the IDA members knew of the spill on Thursday at the cemetery pump or the notice on the county web site.
Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis, an IDA member who attended the meeting yesterday, almost certainly did, for he was copied on the correspondence with the EPD and Environmental Health Specialist Singer on Friday and his office is in the suite at the Courthouse where the web site is managed.
Davis made several announcements to the IDA during the meeting yesterday, but he said nothing about the cemetery pump sewer spill.
Below is the video fo Davis making his member report to the Authority in response to the invitation of Chairman Rick Waller.