Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tour Of Oconee County’s Water Reclamation Facility Shows Changes Since Plant Failure Surfaced Last Spring

Money Invested

The Oconee County Utility Department threw open the gates to its Calls Creek Water Reclamation Facility late last year to allow the community to see how the revitalized plant operates.

What those on the tour observed was a clean, functioning plant with an upbeat staff that is now proud of the operation of the wastewater facility.

The Dec. 12 tour was organized by Vicki Soutar on behalf of Oconee County Waters, created last fall to monitor the water quality of the creeks, streams and rivers of Oconee County. OCW is a partner of Upper Oconee Watershed Network.

Wayne Haynie, hired as director of the Utility Department in August to fix problems at the Calls Creek Plant and companion Rocky Branch Land Application Site, was host for the visit.

Haynie was joined by Erin Carlton, newly appointed wastewater utility supervisor, and members of his staff.

The narrated video at the bottom of this post gives viewers a chance to see what the 11 members of the community saw on Dec. 12.

Troubled Plant

The Calls Creek plant has a troubled recent history, and the Georgia Environmental Protection Division found the county out of compliance with the discharge permit for the plant in 2013 and 2014.

Wayne Haynie

The plant discharges into Calls Creek, which flows downstream from the plant through Hickory Hill subdivision and other residential areas east of Watkinsville. Calls Creek meets the Oconee River just upstream from where Simonton Road crosses that river.

Mark Thomas, a member of the Oconee County Board of Education and county Industrial Development Authority, recorded video of dark water discharging from the plant in April. Thomas and his brother own a farm near where the plant effluent joins Calls Creek.

While the county initially downplayed the significance of the problems, the wastewater supervisor and then Utility Department Director Chris Thomas ultimately resigned.

Stops On Tour

The tour started in the plant’s parking lot with an introduction by Haynie and Carlton and then followed the steps in the operation of the plant, with some initial exceptions.

Erin Carlton

The first stop was the lab, where plant outflow is monitored as required by the EPD permit.

That was followed by a visit to the belt press, a piece of equipment that Bob Sheldon, hired as a consultant when the problems with the Calls Creek plant became public in May, said wasn’t even operating when he first visited the plant that month.

The group next stopped at the ultraviolet disinfection station, which is the final stage of treatment before the water flows into Calls Creek.

Follow The Flow

From that point on, the group followed the flow of water as it is treated at the plant.

The initial station is the influent screens, grit system and pumping station.

That was followed by the equalization basin and then the post equalization screens and chemical feed.

The next stop was the very large aeration basin and then the clarifiers.

The group then visited the bio reactor building before returning to the final station, the ultraviolet disinfection operation.

The labeled aerial view of the facility, which is just north of Watkinsville at the end of Durhams Mill Way, is below.

Aerial View Of Plant With Stops On Tour
Click To Enlarge

Transparency The Goal

Carlton told me as the tour progressed that Haynie had given him directions to be entirely transparent regarding the operation of the plant.

“We’ve got nothing to hide,” he said. “I’m very proud of what we do. I really feel our facility is going where we want it to go.”

Carlton made a similar point at the end of the tour, when the group assembled back on the disinfection station.

“I really want you to walk away with comfort that we are knowledgeable and appreciation for the jobs we do,” Carlton said.

Still Unanswered

Throughout the tour, Haynie, Carlton and others stated that the county has invested heavily in the plant and its personnel since the problems of last spring.

The belt press has been repaired and is operating again.

Carlton said the county has put into place new operating procedures for the lab.

Paul Ludwig With Membranes

The membranes have been cleaned and are operating efficiently.

Maintenance that had been put off is now being done routinely.

What no one in the county has explained–and what no one leading the tour was in a position to know first-hand–is why the county stopped spending money on the plant in the year before the problems surfaced.

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis, county Administrative Officer Jeff Benko and, at least to some extent, the four voting commissioners had been aware of problems even before Mark Thomas presented his video to them.

Video Of Tour

The tour began at 10 a.m. on Dec. 12 and lasted two hours. I shot video throughout.

I have edited that video into a 44-minute package with narration.

If you watch the video, you’ll get to join the tour, learn about the plant's operation, and get some sense of what went wrong in the past.

Please share the video with others in the county as well so they can see how the county’s sewage is treated at the Calls Creek plant.

Haynie has promised a tour of the Land Application Site in the future.

OCO: Calls Creek Tour from Lee Becker on Vimeo


Beanne said...

This is very good news. Shows what good management and some $ can do.

Xardox said...

Agreed. Management and caring maintenance is the key.
Give credit where credit is due. However...
Sure enough, the commissioners have gone in front of the cameras.