Wayne Haynie, director of the Oconee County Utility Department, told the 25 people who turned out on Thursday night at the Oconee County Library to discuss water quality in county streams that he wants to partner with them.
It was the first time a county official has met with the public to discuss sewer issues since serious problems with the county’s sewerage treatment plants were revealed in late May, and Haynie used the opportunity to present the image of a Utility Department that is responding to those problems.
Haynie told the citizens that the county will move forward with replacement of the existing Call Creek sewage plant as proposed earlier in the year. Haynie will be asking the commissioners to purchase a used replacement plant on Tuesday night.
Haynie also said that cleanup at the county’s other wastewater treatment facility on Rocky Branch Road will begin next month.
In response to a question from former Oconee County Commissioner Chuck Horton, Haynie said the county will be required to make more frequent reports to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division on Calls Creek in the next year as a result of recent problems at that plant.
Haynie Program Slot
Haynie was given unlimited time by the organizers of Thursday night’s meeting to provide an update on the county’s wastewater treatment facilities and to answer questions from those present.
Haynie began by saying he wanted to support the efforts to create a citizen monitoring group and saw it as a way of aiding the work of his department.
Haynie talked for 10 minutes before responding to questions for another 25 minutes.
Those questions dealt with the notification requirements in the case of a sewerage spill, budgeting and resources, a possible tour of the treatment plants, as well as with the EPD.
The program had been organized by Vicki Soutar, a member of the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, in collaboration with Melissa Steele, active in preservation of the Rose Creek watershed.
Bruno Giri, president of UOWN, preceded Haynie and used a play on the group’s name to encourage those present to be involved in water quality issues.
“You own your back yards. You own your creeks. You own you waters. And along with that goes a responsibility to protect them,” he said.
One of the goals of the meeting was to begin organizing a local group affiliated with UOWN that would do more frequent monitoring of Oconee County streams than UOWN has been able to do in the past.
Giri said his group would share its resources with a local group.
Haynie told the group that the Utility Department serves about 10,000 water customers and 2,100 sewer customers.
The county has 300 miles of water lines and 73 miles of sewer lines, he said.
Because the Calls Creek plant is on a high spot above Calls Creek just north of and outside of Watkinsville, and because the Rocky Branch Land Application System site is at a high point in the northwestern part of the county, the department has 35 pump stations, according to Haynie.
In contrast, Clarke County has only one pump station, Haynie said.
Pumps And Spills
“With 35 pump stations, all of those in various states of age and reliability, they are going to have mechanical failures from time to time,” Haynie said. His comments are in the video below.
“We hope that the wastewater won’t hit the stream,” he said.
The most recent sewage spill was at a pump station in the Watkinsville Cemetery, and it went into a tributary of Calls Creek.
Haynie said the county would like to move toward a gravity flow system in the future to eliminate as many of those pump stations as possible.
His department also is looking into hiring outside contractors to help monitor the working of the pump stations, he said.
Haynie said the the Calls Creek plant is permitted to treat 670,000 gallons per day of sewage and is treating on average now about 425,000 gallons per day.
The new plant will allow the county to increase that capacity, Haynie said.
The Rocky Branch LAS site is permitted to treat 400,000 gallons per day and is treating, on average, 360,000 gallons per day, he said.
The county reserves most of its sewage treatment capacity for nonresidential use.
Calls Creek Samples
Haynie also said on Thursday night that the county resampled Calls Creek a week after the spill at the cemetery because of concern about the high levels of fecal coliform downstream from the spill in the initial samples. The notice issued by the county at the time of the spill said that the fecal coliform numbers were not a problem.
The county data gathered from Calls Creek on the day of the spill showed fecal coliform levels of 125 units per 100 milliliters upstream of the tributary into which the sewage from the pump flowed and 2,070 downstream.
EPD fishing and drinking standards for fecal coliform from May through October indicate that no individual sample should exceed 400 units per 100 milliliters.
The county data gathered from Calls Creek on Sept. 17 showed fecal coliform levels of 104 upstream from the tributary and 490 downstream.
UOWN readings in Calls Creek for E. coli were 190 upstream and 285 downstream from the tributary. The tributary itself had a reading of 155.
The E. coli standard is 235.
Timeline Of Problems
Following Haynie’s presentation, I was invited to give a timeline for the problems the county has confronted with its wastewater treatment facilities.
The county has known of problems with its two treatment plants since at least September of 2013, when the Georgia Environmental Protection Division issued the first of a series of critical reports on operation of the plants.
Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis gave the first public notice of the issues in May of this year.
Since that time, Davis and county Administrative Officer Jeff Benko have met regularly with Blake Giles, editor of The Oconee Enterprise, to explain county responses to the problems, but Haynie’s Thursday night session was the first time any county official has taken questions from the public.
At the end of the hour-long meeting on Thursday night, those present broke into focus groups to discuss Calls Creek, Barber Creek, Rose Creek and the Apalachee River.
Other streams of interest to the group include McNutt Creek, the Middle Oconee River, and the Oconee River itself.
The county lies between the Apalachee River and the Oconee River and Middle Oconee River, with McNutt Creek forming much of the county’s northern border.
Barber Creek flows east-west through the county, and Rose Creek flows north-south.
Soutar said following the meeting that she will work with the list of those who gathered at the session to identify people interested in getting trained for and participating in sampling of those streams.
The full video of the session on Thursday night is below.
The meeting begins with Steele’s comments.
Giri and Haynie come next, followed by me.
Soutar discussed water training following my comments.
Chemical monitoring workshops are scheduled for Oconee County from 2-5 p.m. on Oct. 18 and Nov. 8 at the Oconee County Library or Watkinsville City Hall and Harris Shoals Park in Watkinsville.
Those interested should contact Soutar at email@example.com.