Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Three Separate Samples From Oconee County’s Calls Creek Show Higher Bacteria Levels Downstream From Sewer Spill Than Upstream

Meeting Tomorrow Night

Three different samples drawn from Calls Creek following the sewage spill in the Watkinsville Cemetery on Sept. 10 show higher levels of bacteria downstream from the spill than upstream, though the differences have decreased over time.

Data gathered by volunteers from the Upper Oconee Watershed Network on Sept. 17 showed E. coli bacteria levels downstream just higher than those upstream and the level in the tributary into which the raw sewage flowed to be the lowest of the three readings.

On the day of the spill, Oconee County reported fecal coliform levels in Calls Creek to be more than 16 times higher downstream from the tributary than upstream. Fecal coliform is a grosser measure of harmful bacteria than is the E. coli measure.

Samples taken by the county on Sept. 17 show fecal coliform levels to be 4.7 times higher downstream than upstream.

Oconee County members of UOWN will meet at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow night at the Oconee County Library on Experiment Station Road in Watkinsville to explain their procedures in monitoring streams and to recruit others in the county to join them in future efforts.

Wayne Haynie, appointed by the Oconee County Board of Commissioners to take over control of the Utility Department on Aug. 4 following a series of operational and procedural problems at the county’s two sewage treatment facilities, is scheduled as one of the speakers.

The meeting is open to the public.

Spill Details

Oconee County told the Georgia Environmental Protection Division on the morning of Sept. 10 that a faulty float switch in a pump station in the Watkinsville Cemetery on Simonton Bridge Road had resulted in a spill of 5,400 gallons of sewage into a tributary of Calls Creek.

Pump At Cemetery

The sewage spill was the second reported by the county since Aug. 21 and the sixth since the first of the year.

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.

UOWN volunteers have been aggressive in gathering independent data on the quality of the county’s streams since the problems at the Calls Creek plant became known in April.

Data Details

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.

The 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.

Program Tomorrow Night

The program tomorrow night will begin with a discussion of the purpose of the meeting by Melissa Steele, who has been active in county clean-up and preservation efforts, particularly along Rose Creek.

She will be followed by Bruno Giri, president of UOWN, who will talk about the possibility of forming a parternship between UOWN and a local Oconee County group.

Haynie will speak next.

I have been asked to follow Haynie and give a presentation of the timeline of the recent issues with water treatment in the county.

Next, Vicki Soutar, a retired Oconee County science teacher, and Ken Morneault, both of whom sampled from Calls Creek and Barber Creek following the recent spills involving those two streams, will join Steele in a discussion of their personal experiences with stream monitoring and preservation.

The program will end with a series of focus groups discussing issues involving Barber Creek, Calls Creek, Rose Creek and the Apalachee River.

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